Catholic Group to Leave Vanderbilt

Special Report - March 29, 2012

One of the largest Catholic student groups at Vanderbilt University will not register as an official student organization in the fall 2012 school year due to religious freedom conflicts with the university’s nondiscrimination policy. “The discriminatory non-discrimination policy at Vanderbilt University has forced our hand,” said Father John Sims Baker, Chaplain of the student group, Vanderbilt Catholic, in a press release. Vanderbilt University requires all officially recognized student organizations to open their leadership positions to any student, regardless of their adherence to the group’s religious beliefs, as part of abiding by the university’s nondiscrimination policy, which includes special protections for “sexual orientation,” “gender identity” and “gender expression.” To be recognized as a registered religious student organization, Vanderbilt requires groups to sign an affirmation statement that they are in compliance with the nondiscrimination policy.

“How could we sign such an agreement?” Father Baker asked in a statement. “Our purpose has always been to share the Gospel and proudly to proclaim our Catholic faith. What other reason could there be for a Catholic organization at Vanderbilt? How can we say it is not important that a Catholic lead a Catholic organization?”

The conflict over Vanderbilt’s nondiscrimination policy began last year, when a homosexual student complained after losing his membership in a Christian fraternity. In response, Vanderbilt launched an investigation into the constitutions of registered religious student groups at the university to determine whether or not they were complying with the nondiscrimination policy, and found that several groups were not. On March 9, 2012, Vanderbilt published updated guidelines about the policy, which state that the policy “remains an ‘all comers’ policy, under which all students are presumed to be eligible for membership in registered student organizations (RSOs) and all members of RSOs in good standing are eligible to compete for leadership positions.”

While Vanderbilt Catholic and many other religious groups had no problem accepting all students as members, they objected to the university requirement that the nondiscrimination policy also apply to leadership positions. A March 26 letter to Vanderbilt Catholic students and families from the group’s student board states that “after much reflection, discussion, and prayer, we have decided that Vanderbilt Catholic cannot in good conscience affirm that we comply with this policy… We are a faith-based organization. A Catholic student organization led by someone who neither professes the Catholic faith nor strives to live it out would not be able to serve its members as an authentically Catholic organization. We cannot sign the affirmation form because to do so would be to lie to the university and to ourselves about who we are as an organization.”

So far, Vanderbilt Catholic is the first student group to officially cut ties with Vanderbilt University over the nondiscrimination policy. The group plans to reorganize as an independent student organization that will continue to serve Vanderbilt, as well as other universities in Nashville.

Related resources:
Christian Student Group Sues UNCG - March 5, 2012
Duke University Issues Apology - April 7, 2010
Stifling Campus Speech - February 22, 2010
Feds Launch Investigation Over Discrimination at UNC-Chapel Hill - August 20, 2004

Copyright © 2012. North Carolina Family Policy Council. All rights reserved.

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