Vanderbilt Strips Religious Group of Recognition For Requiring Officers To Have Religious Commitment

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?

Source: USA Today and NPR.

27 thoughts on “Vanderbilt Strips Religious Group of Recognition For Requiring Officers To Have Religious Commitment”

  1. Why should public dollars be used to support any religious group? I personally believe government should stay out of religion and religion has no place in public policy.
    The student group should seek funding from its demonination, and perhaps a local church of their faith. And they should look for formal meeting space off campus, again at a local church first. They could handbill their fellow students on campus to invite them to events and services, but otherwise they should recognise the separation of church and state that we treasure in the United States. The University is a place of learning, not dogma.
    And if a religious belief conflicts with a medical or scientific practice, then those religious practioners should walk back to their church. With all of the moral lapses we have seen with pediphile priests, and hypocritical gaybasher ministers who turn out to be gay, swindlers who scam millions from their followers — religious groups need to clean up their own houses before they come preaching morality at my door.
    The state moves with advances in science and technology that are and will increasingly be in conflict with religious beliefs, which stand still and are threatened by change. That is one truth that can be certified.

    1. @Laura Dely

      There is merit to much of what you say. Certainly public institutions would seem to be limited in the recognition and support they can provide to religious groups.

      But Vanderbilt is a private university. Presumably private institutions could provide what ever support they choose to religious groups.

      These days, most any institution of higher learning gets at least some funding from the federal government. So I suppose one could argue that the flow of tax dollars to the institution would limit what choices the institution could make – even when the institution is primarily private.

      But that situation seems a bit removed from other more typical examples where the principal of separation of church and state is applied.

  2. Steven:
    I just saw your post. As a practical matter, I know of no particular reason that any voluntary campus organization created and operated by students ought to look to the institution for funding. The application of tuition and student fees should be limited to those activities which fall within the educational mandate of the university. That would exclude funding for any groups which seek to promote specific political, religious or cultural ideologies.

    I was involved in a number of student organizations as a student at a private, secular college in the 1960s, including serving as president of a Catholic student association. Although the university’s name was included in our organizational name, we did not utilize any campus facilities or receive any funds from the university. I have no idea why that should appear peculiar.

    I believe that the negative reaction to Vanderbilt’s position is predicated in large part on the myth that Christianity is somehow under assault in this country, an argument advanced primarily by evangelical denominations and Christians who subscribe to dominionist theology. In my opinion, the controversy is manufactured rather than genuine.

  3. Here’s a thread that educated me without smashing me over the head. I wasn’t sure I could see what was going on. I asked about what the whole thing meant and sure enough, intelligent and respectful answers came forth and now I get it. THANKS A LOT, this is what it’s all about!

    1. Blouise, credit where credit is due. You don’t lie. Just remember the miracle of the singing dog is not that the dog sings so well, the miracle is that the dog sings at all.

      Excuse me but I have to get back trying to memorize those seven prohibited words.

  4. Vanderbuilt has worked hard over the last ten years to change its image. They have tried to add diversity including religious diversity.

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