Vanderbilt to students: Are your religious beliefs really that important?

On January 20, Vanderbilt University announced that it will prohibit religious and political student groups from making leadership decisions based on their religious or political beliefs. University policy now holds that “membership in registered student organizations is open to everyone and that everyone, if desired, has the opportunity to seek leadership positions.”

Vanderbilt’s decision follows months of controversy. Last fall, the Christian Legal Society chapter at Vanderbilt Law School was warned that it could lose recognition after the university found that the group’s constitution violated the university’s non-discrimination policy. The constitution required that all group officers must agree with the Christian Legal Society’s statement of faith and would be expected to lead Bible studies and prayer groups. Vanderbilt objected, stating that the Christian Legal Society’s constitution “would seem to indicate that officers are expected to hold certain beliefs.” …

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, where I work, wrote Vanderbilt of these concerns last September, but received no response. FIRE was not alone in its concern: Twenty-three members of the United States Congress, the national Christian Legal Society, Vanderbilt law professor Carol Swain, Roman Catholic Bishop David Choby of Nashville, and many others warned Vanderbilt that a decision to deny religious or political groups the right to require that their leaders believe in the group’s mission would severely impair the rights of Vanderbilt students.