Alan Sears

A Vanderbilt University policy prohibiting “discrimination on its campus against anyone because of sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression” is drawing national attention because of the way it’s being used to discriminate against religious groups.

For example, at least four “Christian student organizations at Vanderbilt University have been put on ‘provisional status’ for saying that the leaders of each of their respective groups are required to submit to their group's religious beliefs.” One of these groups, the Christian Legal Society, was informed via email from Vanderbilt’s Office of Religious Life that the group is not allowed to “preclude someone from a leadership position based on religious belief. Only performance-based criteria may be used.”

The email to the CLS chapter on Vanderbilt’s campus gets to the heart of the matter by demonstrating how the misapplication of the nondiscrimination policy is actually discriminatory.

In other words, the Vanderbilt policy ubiquitously put in place to prevent institutional discrimination is now being used to tell campus-recognized religious groups that can’t distinguish between practitioners of their religion and non-practitioners of their religion when choosing leaders.

If we take this ridiculous application of the nondiscrimination policies to their broadest and most obvious conclusions, we can only concur with the American Family Association for pointing out that such a policy creates a scenario where “an atheist could lead a Christian group, a man a woman's group, a Jew a Muslim group or vice versa.”

Sadly, this misapplication of a nondiscrimination policy is not without its supporters. Writing for the Tennessean, Ted Rayburn contends “Vanderbilt’s decision to prevent discriminatory practices being carried out in its name is the right thing to do.” His basis for this contention rests, in part, on the fact that the U.S. Supreme Court “last year affirmed the University of California Hastings School of the Law’s refusal to officially recognize the Christian Legal Society unless the group allowed all students to join regardless of beliefs.”

Alan Sears

Alan Sears, a former federal prosecutor in the Reagan Administration, is president and CEO of the Alliance Defending Freedom, a legal alliance employing a unique combination of strategy, training, funding, and litigation to protect and preserve religious liberty, the sanctity of life, marriage, and the family.