Vanderbilt University’s Discriminatory Policies
Against Campus Religious Organizations:
An Update

In February 2012, SBC Today published a series of articles warning about the impact of Vanderbilt University’s “all comers” policies on Christian student organizations on campus (see Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4). The so-called “non-discrimination policy,” which in fact discriminates against Christian groups, insists that the campus Christian organizations cannot limit their leadership positions to Christians. The university is not applying these “all comers” rules to other campus organizations such as fraternities (except for a Christian fraternity) or sororities. The Tennessee legislature has passed a bill that would pressure Vanderbilt to reverse this egregious policy, but Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam has announced he will veto it (see story in the National Review). These actions have been opposed by scores of Christian groups and national leaders (many of these are cited in Part 4 noted above, along with ways you can voice your opinion).

In all, fourteen Christian organizations have refused to submit to the “all comers” policy. Eleven Christian campus organizations, including Vanderbilt Catholic, have formed a group called “Vanderbilt Solidarity” to oppose the religious discrimination being instituted by the policy (see the Washington Post story, The Foundry blog of the Network story, the Nashville National Public Radio story, and the Vanderbilt InterVarsity Christian Fellowship blog story).

The most recent happening in this story is that the Vanderbilt Baptist Campus Ministry has also declined to receive recognized student organization status, because they could not in good conscience sign the required Vanderbilt policies (see the Baptist and Reflector article and the Associated Baptist Press article).

Already, several other private and public universities have quietly enacted the Vanderbilt “all comers” policy themselves. If this policy is followed nationwide, it will severely hamper access of Christian campus ministries to college students at this key time in their lives.

For more perspective on this issue, see the following articles:

  • Restore Religious Freedom at Vanderbilt” is a website that is the most comprehensive place to see a listing of all the articles, protests, and issues revolving around this issue. The website is maintained by Christians on the Vanderbilt campus.
  • Anti-bias Policies Drive Some Religious Groups Off Campus,” by Bob Smietana in USA Today, citing how “all comers” policies are driving Christian student groups underground or off campus at Hastings College (University of California), University of Buffalo, University of North Carolina – Greensboro, and Vanderbilt.
  • Group Takes Dispute over VU Nondiscrimination Policy to Alumni,” by Bob Smietana in The Tennessean, noting a new media campaign by the Restore Religious Freedom at Vanderbilt group to mobilize Vanderbilt alumni to help students resist the religious discrimination policies of Vanderbilt.
  • Vanderbilt’s Right to Despise Christianity,” by Michael Stokes Paulsen (Professor of Law at the University of St. Thomas) in the Witherspoon Institute Public Discourse blog, with a careful discussion of the legal issues involved in Vanderbilt University’s discrimination against religious groups.
  • Reverend Gomes and Religious Freedom,” by Tish Harrison Warren (Campus Minister for Vanderbilt’s Intervarsity Graduate Christian Fellowship) in Inside Vandy, noting the irony of incoming freshmen students at Vanderbilt being required to read a book by Gomes, an openly gay Baptist whom the New York Times described as one of the leading religious voices against intolerance, when in fact Gomes openly rebuked Harvard University for a policy very similar to Vanderbilt’s policy which intolerantly discriminates against religious groups on campus.
  • Anti-Religious Campus Policies Targeted by ADF,” by Leigh Jones in Baptist Press, citing the intention of the Alliance Defense Fund to challenge the university policies which inhibit the First Amendment rights of its students. Their expectation is to go to federal court, and ultimately to take the matter to the Supreme Court.
  • Threats to Religious Freedom on Campus and Across the Nation,” a YouTube video of a panel discussion with Jim Blumstein, Robert P. George, and Michael Paulsen, moderated by Vanderbilt Christian Legal Society director and Law Professor Carol M. Swain.