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TN Gov. Turns His Back on Religious Liberty

The battle for religious liberty at Vanderbilt seemed to be won when the TN legislature passed a bill that would have compelled the university to end its policy of forcing religious groups to open up their groups to non-religious leadership. Now, Republican governor Bill Haslam has shocked advocates of religious liberty by vowing to veto the bill.

And get this — Haslam says he’s doing so in the name of “limited government.”

Constitutional lawyer, David French, isn’t buying it. He writes on NRO:

Vanderbilt, a non-religious private school and recipient of massive amounts of state and federal taxpayer dollars, had implemented a policy that required religious student groups to open themselves to non-religious leadership. In response, the legislature passed a bill that did two things: (1) protected religious liberty at all public universities in the state to prevent any policies similar to Vanderbilt’s, and (2) provided similar protections to students at non-religious colleges that were significant recipients of state funds (but with a one-year sunset provision).

But now it appears that Tennessee governor Bill Haslam will use his first veto as governor to throw thousands of Christian students under the bus and hand a state-funded secular, leftist institution a critical public-policy and public-relations victory. And why is he doing this? In the name of “limited government.”  Here is the core of his statement:

Although I disagree with Vanderbilt’s policy, as someone who strongly believes in limited government, I think it is inappropriate for government to mandate the policies of a private institution.

But this makes no sense in context.  As stated above, Vanderbilt is a massive consumer of taxpayer funds. Its HHS grants alone add up to over $300 million per year, and that’s simply one category of government spending. When you add all the federal, state, and local funding together, the average Vanderbilt student will see as much as $2 billion in taxpayer funds pass through Vanderbilt’s accounts during the course of his college career. Walk through Vanderbilt’s sprawling campus, and you’ll see building after building, academic program after academic program, that was made possible in part through taxpayer money.

”Limited government” would yank that funding rather than strip cost-free religious liberty protections from Tennessee students. Governor Haslam’s potential veto doesn’t represent small-government conservatism; it treats Tennessee taxpayers as an ATM for a university system that sneers at their core values and suppresses the religious liberty of their own kids — kids it recruited to campus with promises of academic freedom and vibrant religious life.

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