Archive Monthly Archives: February 2012

Religious Discrimination at Vanderbilt, Part 3:
Is the Vanderbilt University Administration Disseminating
Misinformation about Its Policies to Repress
Christian Organizations on Campus?

February 17, 2012

Dr. Steve Lemke is Provost, Professor of Philosophy and Ethics, and McFarland Chair of Theology at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. He also serves as Director of the Baptist Center for Theology and Ministry, and the Editor of the Journal for Baptist Theology and Ministry.


This is the third in a four-part series on the religious liberty crisis at Vanderbilt University. The previous articles are —

Part 1: Why Is Vanderbilt University Persecuting Its Christian Students

Part 2: Why Is Vanderbilt Violating the Constitutional Rights of Its Students?


In the first article of this series, we recounted how Vanderbilt University is denying its students their First Amendment Rights to freedom of religion, freedom of expression, and freedom of association by forcing Christian campus organizations off-campus unless they remove from their constitutions all Christian beliefs out or requirements for group leaders to hold Christian beliefs. Vanderbilt also denied requirements that leaders of Christian groups be expected to lead in Bible studies, prayer, or worship experiences. Christian groups had to make themselves completely vulnerable to hostile takeovers by anti-Christian groups to retain their registered student group status on the Vanderbilt campus. The second article detailed how these policies violate several First Amendment rights of these students.

In addition to the student protests, Christian groups of many denominations, as well as nondenominational groups, have called for this oppressive policy to be reversed. Some of the most outstanding law school professors and First Amendment rights specialists in the country have written pleading with the Vanderbilt administration to reconsider the policy with at least a modest compromise to allow the Christian groups to continue ministering on campus.

How has the Vanderbilt University administration responded to the furor created by their decision to oppress Christian student groups on its campus? Unfortunately, the Vanderbilt administration has responded with a misinformation campaign to confuse and muddle the issues. Vanderbilt officials have been purveying a series of disingenuous misrepresentations of the truth in defending the policy. In the town hall meeting with students, some Vanderbilt administrators even stooped to compare these Christian groups on campus to racist segregationists (see stories in Fox News and  The Tennessean). This is uncalled for irresponsible language by administrators who should know better. But that is just the beginning of the misinformation campaign. There are at least five major misrepresentations being promulgated by the Vanderbilt administration, which are described in the paragraphs which follow.
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Religious Discrimination at Vanderbilt, Part 2:
Why Is Vanderbilt Violating the
Constitutional Rights of Its Students?

February 16, 2012

Dr. Steve Lemke is Provost, Professor of Philosophy and Ethics, and McFarland Chair of Theology at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. He also serves as Director of the Baptist Center for Theology and Ministry, and the Editor of the Journal for Baptist Theology and Ministry.


This is the second in a four-part series on the crisis of religious freedom at Vanderbilt University. Part 1 was entitled, “Why Is Vanderbilt University Persecuting Its Christian Students?” the series continues tomorrow with Part 3: “Is the Vanderbilt University Administration Disseminating Misinformation about ItsPolicies to Repress Christian Organizations on Campus?


The first article in this series detailed how Vanderbilt University is denying religious liberty to its students by forcing Christian campus organizations off-campus unless they take all Christian beliefs out of their constitutions, as well as removing requirements that leaders of Christian groups hold Christian beliefs. Vanderbilt also denied any expectations that leaders of Christian groups be expected to lead in Bible studies, prayer, or worship experiences. Christian groups had to make themselves completely vulnerable to hostile takeovers by anti-Christian groups to retain their registered student group status on the Vanderbilt campus. Hundreds of Christian students on campus protested the change in policy, but to no avail.

Apparently terrified by a threatened lawsuit from an openly practicing homosexual student who was asked to resign from a Christian fraternity, Vanderbilt University has swung so far in the opposite direction that its current policies appear to be violating at least three First Amendment rights of its students. Its concern for tolerance for sexual preference has made them intolerant toward religious convictions.  It appears to be beyond debate that at Vanderbilt University, sexual orientation issues trump religious liberty issues. Charles Haynes, Senior Scholar at the First Amendment Center described the anti-religious posture of the Vanderbilt administration with these telling words: “In my view, such a policy promotes discrimination in the name of nondiscrimination” (in a recent Tennessean article). Likewise, Robert Shibley, Senior Vice President of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, expressed a similar concern in his scathing letter to Vanderbilt administrators:

The message here is clear: Vanderbilt believes that its institutional ideological beliefs should take precedence over students’ own beliefs or consciences, particularly when it comes to its students’ attitudes towards sexual activity. Vanderbilt, as a private university, has the right to demand . . . the modification of student groups’ religious and ideological beliefs to fit those of Vanderbilt administrators. But by doing so, Vanderbilt is effectively creating modified versions of every religion on campus and establishing them as the variant of that religion officially favored by the university. An institution that chooses to take this path can hardly claim to allow its students freedom of religion or association, or to tell students that they “are entitled to exercise the rights of citizens.”
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Religious Discrimination at Vanderbilt, Part 1:
Why Is Vanderbilt University
Persecuting Its Christian Students?

February 15, 2012

Dr. Steve Lemke is Provost, Professor of Philosophy and Ethics, and McFarland Chair of Theology at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. He also serves as Director of the Baptist Center for Theology and Ministry, and the Editor of the Journal for Baptist Theology and Ministry.


This is the first of a four-part series on the crisis of religious freedom at Vanderbilt University. Tomorrow is the next article in the series: “Part 2: Why Is Vanderbilt Violating the Constitutional Rights of Its Students?


Some years ago on a mission trip in St. Petersburg, Russia, the student group I was leading went into some of the public schools and hospitals in the area to visit with the Russian students and share their personal testimony of what Christ had done in their lives. As a person who grew up during the Cold War days, it was a stunning moment when it struck me that I did not have the freedom to do in public schools in my own country what we were freely doing in the public schools in this communist country. It was strange that we were experiencing greater religious liberty in this communist country than in our own country whose Constitution guarantees freedom of religion!

Let us go now to Vanderbilt University, which, as Matthew Franck points out in First Things, was founded by a Methodist bishop, and its first chancellor preached sermons in chapel to the early Vanderbilt students. However, the current Vanderbilt Administration has imposed a new regulation on its Christian student organizations which denies them the right to require affirmation of any Christian beliefs as a prerequisite for admission to their fellowship. Vanderbilt is evidently the first university in the nation to create and push such a repressive regulation. As a U. S. Constitutional Free Press headline described it so poignantly, this is “Vanderbilt University’s War on Religious Freedom.” Jason Hoyt, national Executive Director of the Beta Upsilon Chi Christian fraternity, described the situation this way in an opinion column in Fox News:

Once upon a time, American universities encouraged students to create community around common interests and protected the right of student organizations to operate in a manner consistent with their beliefs. But a rising tide of resistance to religious organizations on college campuses, allegedly aimed at reducing intolerance, ironically advances it, fostering an unwelcoming and hostile learning environment for many students and threatening the very existence of religious student organizations.

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