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Is Vanderbilt University Denying Religious Freedom to Christian Groups on Campus?

Is Vanderbilt University Denying Religious Freedom to Christian Groups on Campus?

"...the potential to destroy every religious organization on campus?"

It's a case of religious freedom versus one university's nondiscrimination policies.

Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, is making headlines after a Christian fraternity, Beta Upsilon Chi, asked an openly gay member to resign. Upon leaving the group, the young man filed a discrimination complaint and now college administrators are trying to figure out whether the campus organization violated the school's nondiscrimination policy.

Of course, this incident has grown into a much larger controversy in which university administrators are reviewing all student-led organizations. As a result, officials are concerned about specific clauses that five Christian campus groups have in their constitutions.

These clauses require members of the groups to share their religious beliefs, something that didn't concern campus administrators until the student's complaint was made. Now, the school wants the constitutions amended and the controversial clauses dropped.

If the Christian groups refuse to comply, they may lose their official affiliation with the campus, be denied access to facilities and equipment and potentially lose funding from student fees -- all major losses that would severely impede their operations and existence.

While administrators are allowing the groups to continue operating under a "provisional status," no official resolution has come to fruition and the students have not yet complied to amend their constitutions.

Although campus leaders are being tight-lipped, Jim Lundgren, senior vice president and director of collegiate ministries for InterVarsity, a sponsor for one of the campus groups under fire, has taken a firm stance, saying, "We should be able to select our leaders according to our criteria."

Carol Swain, a professor of political science and law at Vanderbilt, is speaking out about her opposition to the university's handing of this situation as well. In an op-ed for the Tennessean earlier this month, she wrote:

This hastily conceived policy has the potential to destroy every religious organization on campus by secularizing religion and allowing intolerant conflict. Carried to its logical extension, it means that no organization can maintain integrity of beliefs. Christians can seek to lead Muslim organizations, Muslims can seek to lead Jewish ones, and Wiccans can seek to lead Catholic fellowships. The policy encourages people holding antithetical views to infiltrate organizations they seek to destroy.

In the Vanderbilt student media, InsideVandy.com, student Stephen Siao also railed against the administration's policies, writing, "We cannot let the university start chipping away the faith that founded this country from our campus. Though it may seem popular to “compromise” nowadays, when it comes to the present assault on our faith, we must stand firm and never compromise."

He continued, "Now is the time for all Christians and conservatives on this campus to stand firm. If we stand on principle and conviction—and stand together—we will win."

The university likely finds itself in a tough position, as officials seek to defend diversity, while allowing for groups and students, alike, to self-govern their clubs and organizations. But with faith standing at the forefront of these Christian groups' missions, it's a wonder why clubs would be restricted from requiring leaders to share their faith. If, indeed, this is the case, the students may find themselves with many sympathetic supporters as this free-speech battle rages on.

(h/t World on Campus)

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