Thirty-six members of Congress are urging Vanderbilt University to exempt religious organizations from its “all-comers” policy, saying it discriminates against faith-based groups, reports The Tennessean.
Members of the Congressional Prayer Caucus said Monday they have sent a letter pressing Vanderbilt officials to exempt campus religious organizations from the policy, which requires that university-recognized groups allow any student to join and run for office — even if a student doesn’t share the group’s central beliefs.
Vanderbilt adopted the policy after a Christian fraternity expelled a member who is gay.
“We are deeply troubled that Vanderbilt would use its freedom as a private institution to create a nondiscrimination policy that discriminates against religious student groups,” the lawmakers wrote.
The letter was dated Thursday and signed by Tennessee Republican Reps. Marsha Blackburn, Diane Black, Stephen Fincher and Chuck Fleischmann. It’s the second letter the caucus has sent to university officials on the policy. The lawmakers said Vanderbilt’s decision to exempt single-sex organizations — such as fraternities and sororities — but not religious ones “suggests hostility on the part of Vanderbilt toward religious student groups.”
UPDATE NOTE: David Fowler, who heads the Family Action Council of Tennessee, issued a statement hailing the congressional letter. It’s below.
Statement from David Fowler, president of Family Action Council of Tennessee:
It is gratifying to see that members of Congress understand and appreciate the attempt
by Vanderbilt University to misuse federal law to justify its exclusion of fraternities and
sororities from its all comers policy.
The letter makes it very clear that the rationale used by Vanderbilt and its Board to
protect Greek organizations could just as easily have been used to exempt and protect
religious groups from its all comers policy. As they said, this kind of “double standard”
certainly “suggests hostility on the part of Vanderbilt towards religious student groups.”
It makes you wonder how honest Vanderbilt’s legal counsel was when he told students
back in January, “If we take the choice as a university to create that exception [for
Greek organizations], then we are duty-bound to look at other exceptions as
well.” Their “duty” doesn’t seem to have extended very far.
We hope that this Congressional recognition of Vanderbilt’s wrongful use of federal law
and circumvention of federal policy will provide sufficient reason for the Governor to
reconsider his decision to veto the legislation that would maintain the status quo at
Vanderbilt for a year.
In this case, the principle of limited government we value should
yield for a time to the fundamental American value of religious liberty until the law being
misused to attack it can be clarified.