“It’s my hope that Chancellor Zeppos and Vanderbilt’s board will re-construct their nondiscrimination policy to reflect the freedom that religious student groups have been provided under federal law," Caucus member Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., said in a statement to Fox News.
For more than a year now, Vanderbilt University and several religious student groups have been locked in a battle over discrimination.
The university insists that groups like the Christian Legal Society, the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Vanderbilt Catholic and others cannot require prospective leaders to share their faith and values. To do so would run afoul of the university’s non-discrimination policy to admit “all comers.” If the student groups don’t shape up, they’ll have to ship out.
One group already has. In March, Vanderbilt Catholic said it would pick up and move off campus, rather than sign a pledge that non-Catholics were welcome to apply for positions of leadership. To do that, the group's leaders said, would be to compromise the entire purpose of the organization.
Rep. Blackburn pointed out that Vanderbilt exempts fraternities and sororities from its “all comers” policy based on Title IX. Using similar criteria, she points out that religious student groups could be exempted from the non-discrimination policy under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which allows religious groups to use faith as a criteria for who they hire.
Rep. Diane Black – who also signed the letter - did not hold back in criticizing Vanderbilt. “By exempting Greek organizations but refusing to exempt religious organizations it appears that religious discrimination is the aim of this policy," she said in a written statement. "As a private institution Vanderbilt is not exempt from the Constitution, and I encourage them to rethink this misguided policy.”
Tennessee lawmakers have also jumped into the fray. Last week the legislature passed a “religious freedom” bill that would exempt religious groups from non-discrimination policies at all colleges and universities in Tennessee.
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