Tag Archives: religious

AG Issues Opinion on Vanderbilt Police Force Bill

By Eric Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The state’s attorney general has raised constitutional concerns over an effort to strip Vanderbilt University of its police force because of a nondiscrimination policy for student groups.
Attorney General Bob Cooper said in an opinion released Thursday that he sees no legal problems with requiring public colleges and universities to bar such policies. But he said it would be problematic to impose a possibly “unconstitutional condition” on a private institution.
“The General Assembly cannot assert … through an unrelated requirement that a private university abandon its right of free association,” Cooper said in the opinion.
Republican Rep. Mark Pody of Lebanon requested the opinion on his bill seeking to curtail police activity at the school if it doesn’t abandon its nondiscrimination policy among student groups.
Pody said he was disappointed by the legal opinion, but said he was still studying the analysis to see what his next steps should be.
“We could amend the bill, keep running it this way or finding a different course of action,” he said.
The Vanderbilt policy prohibits discrimination based on race, sex, religion, color, national or ethnic origin, age, disability, military service, genetic information or sexual orientation. To be sanctioned by the university, student groups must open membership to all students and allow all members in good standing to seek leadership posts.
Christian groups have protested the policy, saying it forces them to allow nonbelievers and gay students to join. Vanderbilt officials say about 15 student groups have refused to comply with the policy and more than 480 groups have accepted it.
Republican Gov. Bill Haslam last year vetoed a more general bill seeking to ban college nondiscrimination policies because it sought to control the policies of private schools like Vanderbilt. The governor told reporters earlier in the week that he wasn’t more enamored about the renewed effort.
“I had problems with last year’s, and I’m not so certain that this isn’t just kind of a way to go around the corner and do the exact same thing,” Haslam said. “I also have questions whether any remedy that involves taking away a protective force is a good remedy.

Note: The full opinion is HERE.

Senate Approves Bill on Student Psychologists Counseling & Religion

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The Senate has approved legislation that would protect student counselors at public higher education institutions who withhold their services because of religious beliefs.
The measure passed Thursday 22-4. Republican Sen. Joey Hensley of Hohenwald sponsored the bill.
The legislation targets students in counseling, social work or psychology programs.
Hensley says he proposed the measure after a student at a Tennessee college was required to counsel someone who didn’t agree with the counselor’s “moral belief.”
The proposal protects a counselor from disenrollment, and it allows the client to be referred to another counselor.
Hedy Weinberg is executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee. She says the legislation is discriminatory and undermines the ability of universities to train counselors in line with the mandates of their future profession.

Bill Lets Counselors Reject Clients Based on Religious Beliefs

Legislation declaring that student counselors can reject clients with religious beliefs differing from their own is advancing over the objections of psychology professors who say the bill is counter to the profession’s ethical code and could threaten academic accreditation.
The bill (SB514) is similar to a Michigan law enacted last year after courts upheld the dismissal of Julea Ward from an Eastern Michigan University counseling program when, based on her Christian beliefs, she refused to counsel a homosexual student.
The bill is pushed by the Family Action Council of Tennessee, a Christian activist organization headed by David Fowler, a former state senator from Signal Mountain.
The measure declares that public colleges and universities “shall not discipline or discriminate against a student in a counseling, social work, or psychology program because the student refuses to counsel or serve a client as to goals, outcomes, or behaviors that conflict with a sincerely held religious belief of the student, if the student refers the client to a counselor who will provide the counseling or services.”
Dr. Brent Mallinckrodt, a professor in the University of Tennessee’s psychology program, was joined by four other past or present academicians in urging defeat of the measure in testimony before the Senate Education Committee.

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Now We Have a TN ‘Religious Freedom Caucus’

News release from Senate Republican Caucus:
(NASHVILLE, Tenn.), February 5, 2013 — State Senators Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown; Dolores Gresham, R-Somerville; John Stevens, R-Huntingdon; Mae Beavers, R-Mt. Juliet; Charlotte Burks, D-Monterey and Reginald Tate, D-Memphis have joined colleagues in the House of Representatives to form the Religious Freedom Caucus in the Tennessee General Assembly.
The Tennessee Religious Freedom Caucus is the 9th state caucus in the nation organized to protect religious freedom and is affiliated with the Ethics and Public Policy Center’s American Religious Freedom Program (ARFP).
“As lawmakers, we have an important role in protecting the free exercise of religion,” stated Senator Kelsey. “The Religious Freedom Caucus will help safeguard those rights and will work to strengthen protections for the diverse faith communities in Tennessee.”

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Congressional Prayer Caucus Doesn’t Like Vandy Policy

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.

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Senate Approves ‘Religious Viewpoints Anti-Discrimination Act’

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A proposal that would prevent students from being discriminated against for expressing their religious beliefs has passed the Senate.
The measure sponsored by Republican Sen. Kerry Roberts of Springfield was approved 29-0 on Wednesday. The companion bill is awaiting a vote on the House floor.
Roberts says the proposal requires school districts to treat a student’s religious expression the same as they would a secular viewpoint. Students would also have access to school facilities to organize student prayer groups or other religious gatherings.
Democratic Sen. Beverly Marrero of Memphis, who abstained from voting, questioned whether the bill is “trying to make schools similar to Sunday schools.”

Regents Chancellor Questions Logic of Legislation!?

The Tennessee Board of Regents is questioning the logic of legislation that prevents public colleges from enforcing nondiscrimination rules on religious student groups, according to WPLN.
The bill (SB3597) responds to an ongoing dispute at Vanderbilt University, even though private institutions are excluded. The legislation would prevent administrators from requiring student groups to drop faith requirements for membership or leadership positions, as Vanderbilt has done.
TBR Chancellor John Morgan says he doesn’t know exactly how the proposed law would affect MTSU, Austin Peay or Tennessee Tech, but he doesn’t see a need.
“Far as I know, that has not been an issue at any of the public institutions in Tennessee, yet we’re going to pass a law that only applies to public institutions? It’s hard for me to understand that.”
A summary of the bill – which was scheduled for a Senate vote Monday night (but was postponed until next week) – says religious student organizations would be allowed to choose leaders who are committed to their mission and that no higher education institution could deny recognition of a group because of the religious content of their speech.