This piece was authored by Jeffrey Shafer of the Alliance Defense Fund
What’s sauce for the goose should be sauce for the gander. But at Vanderbilt University, the sauce distribution doesn’t follow that pattern. The university administration would never conform itself to the rule it now imposes on the religious student groups on campus.
On Jan. 20, Vanderbilt University Chancellor Nicholas Zeppos officially announced to the university community what other school officials had been insisting on in recent months: Vanderbilt’s nondiscrimination policy will now be interpreted to require that religious student groups open their membership and leadership to all students. Atheists must be given access to leadership opportunities in Christian student organizations; Hindus must be offered the reigns of authority over Jewish student groups. And so on.
Not surprisingly, the numerous affected student organizations have not received this news happily. The chancellor scheduled a town hall meeting for Jan. 31 at which the matter would be discussed.
At that meeting, the room was filled to capacity and hundreds of students were turned away at the door. Provost Richard McCarty and Vice-Chancellor David Williams spoke on behalf of the chancellor and the university. The goal of these gentlemen was to convince the assembled students that religious groups’ limitation of their leadership to co-religionists is discriminatory, in violation of school policy, and that the groups would be well-served by opening their leadership to unbelievers.
The students in the religious groups didn’t see it quite that way and were evidently baffled that university officials—grown-ups—would be defending such policies as both reasonable and fair. How is a religious group to maintain its identity, purpose, and mission if those who lead it do not subscribe to (and may even deplore) the tenets that define the organization? What could be wrong with a religious group requiring its leaders to share its faith? Isn’t it disrespectful to religious students to forbid them the most basic means of preserving the integrity of their support organizations? The responses the school officials offered to such questions ranged from arbitrary to offensive, confused to willful.
But apart from the substantive weakness of these officials’ comments, the very presence of these gentlemen was self-refuting.