Tennessee lawmakers on Tuesday revived an effort to pressure Vanderbilt University to drop its controversial nondiscrimination policy for student clubs, reports Chas Sisk — this time with an attack on the school’s police powers. A pair of Middle Tennessee lawmakers said they will press ahead with a bill that would strip the Vanderbilt University Police Department of state recognition unless the school abandons its “all-comers” policy. That policy requires university-sponsored clubs to follow its rules against discrimination based on race, ethnicity, religion, gender or sexual orientation.
The bill would defy the wishes of Gov. Bill Haslam, who vetoed a measure last year that attacked the all-comers rule from a different angle. Backers said the new measure would stand a better chance of holding up in the courts and protect students from arbitrary use of police power to break up protests against the policy.
“Who will hold Nicholas Zeppos accountable?” said David Fowler, president of the Family Action Council of Tennessee, referring to Vanderbilt’s chancellor.
But university officials said the measure flies in the face of efforts to tighten security in the wake of mass shootings. Without state recognition, Vanderbilt’s police effectively would become security guards, they said.
“I just find it unbelievable,” said August Washington, chief of the Vanderbilt University Police Department.
Senate Bill 1241/House Bill 1150, sponsored by state Rep. Mark Pody and state Sen. Mae Beavers, would take police powers away from any university that has adopted policies that “discriminate” against religious student organizations. Seventeen universities in Tennessee have their own police departments.
But it is geared toward Vanderbilt, which has implemented a rule requiring recognized student groups to follow school policies that bar discrimination.
A bill vetoed by Gov. Bill Haslam last year was characterized as “constitutionally suspect” in a state attorney general’s opinion released Wednesday.
The sponsor of the bill, meanwhile, said he hopes an “amicable agreement” can be worked out with Vanderbilt University to resolve a dispute that revolves around religious freedom of students. If not, Rep. Mark Pody said he will push similar legislation this year with the legal opinion in mind.
The bill in question was aimed at blocking Vanderbilt University’s so-called “all comers” policy for campus student organizations. Under the policy, all groups must accept all students as members – even in one controversial case where a Catholic students organization was told to accept an atheist member.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Vanderbilt University has hired a chaplain in the hopes of ending a lingering controversy over its non-discrimination policy.
The “all-comers” policy at the school requires student groups to allow any student to join their groups and to hold office, regardless of their beliefs. (Note: The Legislature passed a bill last session intended to stop the policy, but it was vetoed by Gov. Bill Haslam.)
Vanderbilt reviewed all of its student groups for compliance with the policy after a gay student complained of being thrown out of a Christian fraternity. Since then, Christian groups have protested and several lost their official status for refusing to sign on to the policy.
The university announced on Wednesday that the Rev. Mark Forrester would be its chaplain and director of religious life beginning on Sept. 1. The Tennessean (http://tnne.ws/NkJm9g) reports that one of his first tasks will be to meet with groups that lost their status.
The Rev. John Sims-Baker, who advises the Vanderbilt Catholic student group, which lost its status after not signing on to the policy, had a positive reaction to the move.
“It is a godsend,” said Sims-Baker. “When I heard the news, I was surprised and delighted.”
Following through with an intention announced earlier, Gov. Bill Haslam on Monday vetoed the so-called “Vanderbilt all-comers bill” passed by the Legislature earlier this month, according to his press secretary.
David Fowler, president of the Family Action Council of Tennessee, had drafted the legislation, lobbied it in the General Assembly and then led a campaign to conviince the governor to change his mind and not veto the bill.
Here’s a statement issued by Fowler on the veto: Although we have not been able to obtain confirmation from the Governor’s office itself, it is our understanding that on Monday Governor Haslam vetoed Senate Bill 3597.
Obviously the outcome is not what had been hoped for by our organization, national conservative organizations, the bill sponsors, the campus ministries that will probably be disbanded, and the nearly sixty percent of the legislature that voted for the bill.
We share the Governor’s desire that government regulation of private businesses be held to the minimum, but our civil rights laws are a prime example of government regulating a private business when fundamental values are at risk. And there is no doubt that religious liberty is a fundamental American value.
In our view the bill was effectively a 13 month “temporary injunction” designed to protect these student religious organizations while the law applicable to Vanderbilt’s all-comer’s policies was being sorted out. Under the circumstances, we thought the bill was an appropriate course to take to avoid irreparable harm to organizations that will now most likely be disbanded.
By Lucas Johnson, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Republican Gov. Bill Haslam said Wednesday he would veto a measure that tried to force Vanderbilt University to exempt student religious groups from its nondiscrimination policy. It would be his first veto since taking office in 2010.
The university’s so-called “all-comers” policy requires student groups at the school to allow any interested students to join and run for office. Religious groups say it forces them to allow members who don’t share their beliefs.
Haslam said he disagrees with Vanderbilt’s policy, but it’s “inappropriate for government to mandate the policies of a private institution.”
The bill — which passed the Senate 19-12 and was approved in the House 61-22 — was sponsored by Rep. Mark Pody of Lebanon and Sen. Mae Beavers of Mt. Juliet, both Republicans.
Beavers told The Associated Press she’s disappointed the administration didn’t tell sponsors there might be a veto.
News release from governor’s office:
NASHVILLE – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam released the following statements regarding HB 3540/SB 3345 and HB 3576/SB 3597. House Bill 3540/SB 3345 addresses the hiring of foreign nationals as teachers in Tennessee charter schools.
“We continue to put a lot of time and effort in improving education in Tennessee. Establishing reputable and impactful charter schools to offer education options to parents and students has been an important part of that process. We should also continue to focus on attracting the best and brightest to study and teach in Tennessee,” Haslam said.
“In reviewing HB 3540/SB 3345, I am comfortable that because it is permissive and not mandatory, it does not adversely impact the state’s momentum in education reform. However, I do have concerns about this bill’s constitutionality.
“I will not sign the bill and will let it become law without my signature. Because of my concerns, I am also requesting a formal opinion from the Attorney General on the bill’s constitutionality. I think it is important for local educational agencies to fully understand the implications of this law and their decisions about granting charter school applications.” Regarding HB 3576/SB 3597, which addresses Vanderbilt University’s “all-comers” policy for campus organizations, Haslam said:
“I don’t agree with Vanderbilt’s ‘all-comers’ policy. It is counter-intuitive to make campus organizations open their membership and leadership positions to anyone and everyone, even when potential members philosophically disagree with the core values and beliefs of the organization.
“The original version of HB 3576/SB 3597 only applied to public education institutions, and I believe it is appropriate for state government to be involved in policies of public colleges and universities.
“The amended legislation that the General Assembly ultimately passed, however, also applies to private universities. Although I disagree with Vanderbilt’s policy, as someone who strongly believes in limited government, I think it is inappropriate for government to mandate the policies of a private institution. Therefore, I will veto HB 3576/SB 3597 in its current form.”
By Lucas Johnson, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Lawmakers have given final approval to a bill seeking to rescind Vanderbilt University’s “all-comers” policy, which requires school groups to allow any interested students to join and run for office.
The Senate approved its version of the bill sponsored by Republican Judiciary Chairwoman Mae Beavers of Mt. Juliet on a 19-12 vote on Monday. The House later followed suit on a 61-22 vote.
Voting yes were 57 Republicans and three Democrats and one independent. Voting no were 21 Democrats and one Republican. Thirteen members abstained.
Christian student leaders have been vocal in opposition, saying their groups shouldn’t be forced to admit members, and possibly leaders, who do not share their beliefs.