I have previously discussed the collision between anti-discrimination laws and free exercise of religion. Now, Vanderbilt University has stripped a Christian student organization of official recognition (and presumably funding) because it requires its members to have a personal commitment to Jesus Christ.
On one hand, the move reflects the university’s view that school-supported groups must be open to all students. The Supreme Court in March turned down a similar case.
The group’s constitution stated “Criteria for officer selection will include level and quality of past involvement, personal commitment to Jesus Christ, commitment to the organization, and demonstrated leadership ability.” The group was reportedly not approved because the university took issue with a requirement that leaders have a “personal commitment to Jesus Christ.” They were told to remove the requirement, which would seem a reasonable expectation for members.
University Provost Richard McCarty insisted that it was merely “rejecting discrimination and not . . . restricting religious freedom.”
I fully understand the anti-discrimination policy and support it. However, the rule has a disparate impact on religious groups. Most religious are exclusionary on the basis of faith and students who create these groups are not looking for debates over religion but a shared faith. I find the question a close one but I tend to favor the groups when it comes to officers of the group. If all students are allowed into a student group, it does not seem unreasonable to limit officers to those who believe in the faith-based purpose of the group. Of course, the university is trying to avoid a slippery slope problem where the next group might use race or gender to limit candidates for officer positions. Yet, those are immutable characteristics while this criteria merely limits the officers to those who believe in or have a commitment to the mission.
What do you think?