Vanderbilt University: Refusal to Approve Constitutions of Student Groups that Require Leaders to Share Beliefs
The Vanderbilt chapter of the Christian Legal Society (CLS) was told in April 2011 that recognition of its constitution would be "deferred," and Vanderbilt claimed that the group's Statement of Faith violated university policies prohibiting organizations from selecting leaders based on religious belief. Vanderbilt even told CLS that it was not allowed to expect its leaders "to lead Bible studies, prayer and worship." Despite FIRE's September 2011 letter to Vanderbilt and the ensuing uproar in the local and national media and on campus, in January 2012 Chancellor Nicholas Zeppos persisted in the discriminatory treatment of belief-based student organizations, stating that membership must be open to everyone, even those who do not share the group's beliefs and seek to undermine it. By prohibiting groups from maintaining their identities, Vanderbilt is discriminating against political and religious organizations and violating its promises to its students. In spring 2012, Vanderbilt Catholic refused to affiliate with the university under the new policy and 11 other organizations flouted the policy in solidarity when they applied for recognition as belief-based groups.
- "Exiled from Vanderbilt: How Colleges are Driving Religious Groups off Campus," August 20, 2012: Featuring Larry Gatlin and Jonathan Rauch!Religious and political groups in the United States have traditionally been free to choose their leaders and members without interference from authorities. That's no longer true at Vanderbilt University, where the school banned belief-based groups from making belief-based decisions about their members and leaders and drove 13 religious student groups off of campus. In this video, FIRE talks to Vanderbilt students and faculty about how this decision is affecting them. Country music legend Larry Gatlin and author and scholar Jonathan Rauch also explain why Vanderbilt has done both its students and the idea of pluralism itself a profound disservice.
- "Email from Patricia Helland, Associate Dean of Students, to student groups, August 9, 2012," August 9, 2012
- "Transcript of Vanderbilt University Town Hall Regarding Non-discrimination Policy, January 31, 2012," April 9, 2012
- " FIRE Open Letter Advertisement in Vanderbilt Hustler, January 30, 2012," January 31, 2012
- "Open Letter from FIRE to Vanderbilt Chancellor Nicholas Zeppos, January 27, 2012," January 27, 2012
- "Letter from Twenty-Three Members of Congress to Vanderbilt University, October 6, 2011," October 6, 2011
- "FIRE Letter to Vanderbilt University Chancellor Nicholas Zeppos, September 21, 2011," September 21, 2011
- "Private Universities and the Conflict Between Mission and Speech ," by Madeline Gootman, July 15, 2013
- "Vanderbilt Versus Fairness," by Nico Perrino, September 4, 2012
- "Student Column Urges Vanderbilt to Reconsider Stance on Belief-Based Groups," by Jaclyn Hall, August 23, 2012
- "FIRE’s New Video Featured in ‘Daily Caller’," by Bridget Glackin, August 20, 2012
- "New FIRE Video: How Religious Groups Were ‘Exiled from Vanderbilt,’ Featuring Larry Gatlin and Jonathan Rauch," by Robert Shibley, August 20, 2012: Religious and political groups in the United States have traditionally been free to choose their leaders and members without interference from authorities. That’s no longer true at Vanderbilt University, where the school banned belief-based groups from making belief-based decisions about their members and leaders and drove 13 religious student groups off of campus. In “Exiled from Vanderbilt: How Colleges are Driving Religious Groups Off Campus,” FIRE talks to Vanderbilt students and faculty about how this decision is affecting them. Country music legend Larry Gatlin and author and scholar Jonathan Rauch also explain why Vanderbilt has done both its students and the idea of pluralism itself a profound disservice.
- "Belief-Based Student Groups Score a Win at SUNY - Buffalo," by Robert Shibley, August 15, 2012
- "Fight for Religious Liberty Continues," by Bridget Glackin, May 23, 2012: This week, UNC-Greensboro reversed its denial of official recognition to the student group Make Up Your Own Mind after the Alliance Defense Fund filed a lawsuit against the school for refusing to accept the club's religious status and belief-based membership requirements. UNCG’s decision comes in light of the ongoing debate over belief-based groups at Vanderbilt University, where yesterday twelve student organizations wrote an open letter to the Vanderbilt administration asking that it "adopt a policy that not only clearly advances our shared commitment to non-discrimination but also adequately preserves the religious liberty and the creedal integrity of faith-based student groups." FIRE urges Vanderbilt to take this message to heart and to look to schools like UNCG as models for reform.
- "Vanderbilt Reaps What it Sows: Tennessee Legislature Passes Bill Banning ‘All Comers’ Policy," by Robert Shibley, May 2, 2012
- "Vanderbilt Update: Board of Trust Urged to Reverse Discriminatory Policy," by Adam Kissel, April 19, 2012
- "11 More Vanderbilt Student Groups Revolt over New Discriminatory Policy," by Adam Kissel, April 11, 2012: After Vanderbilt University issued a new, discriminatory policy that prevents religious student groups from maintaining belief-based membership and leadership requirements, 11 Vanderbilt student organizations have refused to accept second-class status at the university because of their beliefs. Organized together as Vanderbilt Solidarity, these organizations have applied for recognition as belief-based groups. Their decision follows the choice of the student group Vanderbilt Catholic to accept self-exile by no longer officially registering with Vanderbilt rather than lose its unique identity. Vanderbilt has refused to permit belief-based groups to maintain their missions despite significant national outrage.
- "‘Huffington Post’: Catholic Group Withdraws from Vanderbilt over New Policy ," by Azhar Majeed, April 9, 2012
- "Vanderbilt Drives Out the Catholics--Who’s Next?," by Lyzi Diamond, March 29, 2012
- "Law Professor Explores Freedom of Association Controversy at Vanderbilt," by Bridget Glackin, March 20, 2012
- "All-Comers Supporters: Don’t Worry, Bad Things will ‘Never Happen’!," by Robert Shibley, February 23, 2012
- "Help FIRE Defend Liberty on Campus," February 23, 2012
- "FIRE in ‘National Review Online’ on Impact of Discriminatory ‘All-Comers’ Policy at Vanderbilt," by William Creeley, February 6, 2012: In National Review Online, FIRE Senior Vice President Robert Shibley explores the negative impact of the Supreme Court's 2010 decision in Christian Legal Society v. Martinez for students at Vanderbilt University and nationwide. Robert focuses on Vanderbilt's invocation of the case to justify its recent decision to ban belief-based student groups from requiring that group leaders share the group's stated values. Robert writes that Vanderbilt's decision is "just the kind of use of an all-comers policy that the Supreme Court, in the Martinez case, said would be unacceptable" in a school that respects free speech rights.
- "After Vandy's Ill-Advised Choice, Revisiting 'CLS v. Martinez' Warning," by William Creeley, February 1, 2012
- "Debate Over Religious Freedom Comes to a Head at Vanderbilt," by Robert Shibley, January 31, 2012: This evening, Vanderbilt University will hold a town hall “discussion” about its new nondiscrimination policy that prevents belief-based student groups from making belief-based decisions about their leadership. Vanderbilt effectively is discriminating against political and religious groups that seek to promote a common message. Vanderbilt has told students that their organizations are engaging in prohibited discrimination if they require that leaders of the Vanderbilt College Democrats be Democrats, that Christian groups be Christian, that Muslim groups be Muslim, that single-sex singing groups maintain their identity, or that political publications exclude students who do not share their views.TAKE ACTION: Tell Chancellor Nicholas Zeppos to preserve religious freedom at Vanderbilt!
- "FIRE’s Open Letter to Vanderbilt Regarding Religious and Political Organizations," by Robert Shibley, January 27, 2012: In an open letter today, FIRE asks Vanderbilt University Chancellor Nicholas Zeppos important questions about how Vanderbilt will handle the ramifications of its recent decision to ban political and religious student groups on campus from making leadership decisions based on their core beliefs. FIRE points out that Vanderbilt must be willing to explain whether the university will, for example, force a Muslim group whose leader converts to Christianity to retain that person as a leader, or whether politically oriented student newspapers will now be forced to accept columnists who denigrate the newspaper's own beliefs.
- "George Will Castigates Vanderbilt for Discrimination Against Belief-Based Student Groups," by Peter Bonilla, November 3, 2011: Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist George Will, writing in The Washington Post, criticizes Vanderbilt University's new policy prohibiting certain student organizations from instituting belief-based requirements for members or officers. FIRE has been advocating for the student groups' freedom of association, as have 23 members of Congress. FIRE Senior Vice President Robert Shibley also wrote about the principles involved in The Daily Caller.
- "Robert on Vanderbilt's Nondiscrimination Policy Issues in 'The Daily Caller'," by Lyzi Diamond, November 1, 2011
- "Vid: "Harvard of the South," Vanderbilt, as Repressive as Harvard of the North,"
by Nick Gillespie, Reason Online, August 24, 2012
- "Country Star Blasts Vanderbilt For Stifling Faith,"
by Bob Unruh, WorldNetDaily, August 22, 2012
- "Vanderbilt exiles evangelical Christians, Catholics,"
by Robert Shibley, The Daily Caller, August 20, 2012
- "Religion on campus: Status of religious student groups is challenged by court ruling,"
by Amy Choate-Nielson, Deseret News, July 13, 2012
- "Sending Catholics Running for Cover,"
by Louis Betty, Inside Higher Ed, May 4, 2012
- "TN Legislature Seeks to Overturn Bizarre Vanderbilt Rule,"
by S.D. Lawrence, Education News, May 3, 2012
- "Vanderbilt University's Non-Discrimination Policy Causes Catholic Student Group To Leave Campus,"
by Tyler Kingkade, The Huffington Post, April 2, 2012
- "Schools work to balance gay, religious rights,"
by Associated Press, The Wall Street Journal , February 22, 2012
- "Vandy's advice to clubs 'makes no sense',"
by Bob Kellogg and Fred Jackson, One News Now, February 3, 2012
- "OK to discriminate against Christians, says law, Vandy,"
by Bob Kellogg, One News Now, December 1, 2011