Congressmen to Vanderbilt: Let religious groups pick their leaders

by Kyle Blaine - Fix Contributor on October 17, 2011

Twenty-three members of Congress earlier this month wrote to Vanderbilt University Chancellor Nicholas Zeppos, urging him to allow religious groups to freely choose their leaders.

The Congressional Prayer Caucus, which includes Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) and Rep. Diane Black (R-TN), sent the letter on Oct. 6 in reference to several student religious groups placed on provisional status for requiring their leaders to share the groups’ core religious beliefs.

“Religious student groups form around specific beliefs, and provide an opportunity for like-minded individuals to assemble to study the tenets of their faith and engage in activities that enrich their religious experiences,” the letter reads. “It follows, then, that religious groups must be allowed to select leaders that share the group’s core religious beliefs in order to maintain their religious identities and carry out their primary functions. Selecting leaders that best represent a student organization’s mission is not discrimination; it is common sense.”

The Vanderbilt Hustler reached out to a university official this afternoon for comment on the letter but has not yet received a response.

The Christian groups in question — Graduate Christian Fellowship, Christian Legal Society, and Fellowship of Christian Athletes — were placed on provisional status in April after the Office of the Dean of Students concluded that the organizations were not in compliance with the university’s nondiscrimination policy.

The noncompliance issue is the same for the three groups. Each group’s constitution contains a clause which restricts leadership positions to individuals who share the group’s core religious beliefs. The university is in the process of determining whether these clauses violate the school’s nondiscrimination policy; until a determination is made, the groups will retain provisional status.

The university began reviewing the constitutions of all student organizations at the beginning of the year, following allegations last November that Beta Upsilon Chi (BYX), a Christian fraternity on campus, asked an openly gay member to resign due to his sexual orientation. The investigation into the BYX allegations is still ongoing, according to Bandas.

Kyle Blaine is a reporter for the Vanderbilt Hustler. He is a contributor to The College Fix.

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