Congressional Prayer Caucus Urges Vanderbilt University to Stop Discriminating Against Religious Student Groups

Press Release

By:  Marsha Blackburn Diane Black
Date: May 7, 2012
Location: Washington, DC

Congressman Randy Forbes, Founder and Co-Chairman of the Congressional Prayer Caucus, along with Congressman Marsha Blackburn and Congressman Diane Black, led 36 Members of Congress in sending a second letter to Chancellor Nicholas Zeppos of Vanderbilt University, urging him to ensure that the school's nondiscrimination policy is not being interpreted in a manner that discriminates against religious student groups.

Last year, several religious student organizations at Vanderbilt University, including the Christian Legal Society and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, were placed on "provisional status" for requiring their student leaders to share the groups' religious beliefs. If Vanderbilt does not change its nondiscrimination policy to protect the rights of religious student groups, at least 11 groups will be forced to leave campus and drop their affiliation with the university.

"I fully respect a private institution's right to set its own policies. However, I am deeply concerned that Vanderbilt's nondiscrimination policy unfairly targets religious student groups in a hostile manner that is forcing them to seek refuge off campus and immediately drop any affiliation they once enjoyed with the university," Blackburn said. "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."

"Freedom of religion is fundamental to our Republic. Vanderbilt's "all comers" policy infringes on that right. By exempting Greek organizations but refusing to exempt religious organizations it appears that religious discrimination is the aim of this policy," said Black. "As a private institution Vanderbilt is not exempt from the Constitution and I encourage them to rethink this misguided policy."

Congressman Forbes added: "Vanderbilt's policy defies common sense. Religious student groups form around specific beliefs, and their leaders obviously lead the groups' activities. As such, religious groups must be allowed to select leaders that share their core religious beliefs in order to carry out their most basic functions. It is not discrimination; it is common sense."

Members of the Congressional Prayer Caucus sent the first letter to Vanderbilt University in October 2011 expressing their concerns with this troubling policy. The current form of the policy allows an exemption for Greek organizations, but does not allow one for religious student organizations. This policy not only discriminates against religious student groups whose rights are protected by the Constitution, but also leaves the appearance that it is the religious groups that are specifically targeted.