Sunday, February 5, 2012

Christian Students Fight Back!!!

Christian students at Vanderbilt University are currently in a fight for their right to choose who lead their organizations.  Since September of 2010, Vanderbilt University has been cracking down on student led organizations after an openly gay student was asked to leave a Christian fraternity.  Though this brought Vanderbilt University into national headlines about discrimination on campus, the same issue is arising in a different sort of way.  Christian students have begun to launch several campaigns targeting Vanderbilt University and its non-discrimination policy involving organizations to not require their leadership to hold certain beliefs.  For the Christian organization, they claim that this policy is problematic in a number of ways.  One student goes as far to say that “Our new so-called non-discrimination policy threatens to destroy the integrity of each of our religious organizations”.  Such a charge is one that carries much weight with it.  Beyond the students, faculty and staff are also getting involved to question the administrations sudden attention to the constitutions of all the religious student organizations.   

The sudden attention, many claim, is a question of religious freedom.  Student groups such as the Vanderbilt College Republicans have published a video calling for the administration to recognize the religious freedom of the student.  In the end the students are calling for a freedom within the higher education system to allow student groups to be just that, a student led group.  
In my opinion this non-discrimination policy of Vanderbilt is a positive change to the campus that encourages all students to participate in any student group that choose to.  The Christian students are worried about their right to elect officers in organizations that faith-based but one fact that remains elusive in their discussion is the fact that all students pay for the organizations budget and meeting space.  A non-discrimination policy is a common practice that many universities ascribe to due to its ability to not limit particular students from participating in their college career.  The realm of education has always been a battleground for religion and law.  Prayer, evolution, creationism, etc. have been some of the issues that have been tackled in education and now there is a question of whether certain groups should have the ability to exclude certain individuals based on their person beliefs.  For the Christian students in question, this is a simple request and one that should not be hard at all for the administration.  On the other hand, the administration is attempting to create a campus that allows every student the opportunity to participate.  In one of the videos in their campaign, a student claims that this nation was founded on Judeo-Christian beliefs.  This notion then is linked to the right of a student organization to exclude leadership who do not go in line with the beliefs of the group.  For them the right to choose the leadership is heavily intertwined with the right to religious freedom.  The religious freedom quoted throughout the campaigns by the students is an attempt to link the "founding" of this country to a Christian foundation.  Such a link for the student provides the opportunity for them to be able to practice their religion in the public sphere, and in this case on the grounds of a university.  Beyond the history lessons offered by the students on the founding of this nation, one student states that “With this policy, Vanderbilt is going somewhere where no other university has gone before”.  I would like to say that such a policy is not new and it is not something that should be seen as threatening but one that attempts to embrace the diversity of the campus and allow every student to fully participate on their campus.


Catherine S said...

I find this issue very interesting. I am torn on how I feel about the potential outcome. On the one hand, as Blake stated, students pay for organization budgets and meeting space. All students should be allowed to participate in any organization they want. However, on the other hand, there are other organizations that are very beneficial to a group (whether that group be based on race, gender, religion, etc) that in order to be a part of that group you must belong to the specific community and share beliefs. Is this situation based only on the fact that the student was asked to leave? What if a different student asked to join and was denied? Would there be an issue there?

Anne G said...

Blake, Vanderbilt is going where Hasting College of Law, Christian Leadership Society v. U.S.Supreme Court went in 2010. It held that campus organizations must let "all-comers"be members-even run for office no matter what they believed. Yet it handed down what seems an opposite opinion month in Hosanna-Tabor (Jan2012). If students fight fire with fire, they can be creative with the rules and make it difficult for any group to
move forward.

Rebekah said...

Does a religious organization within a school have the same autonomy that the government gives religious institutions?

Many schools already have anti-discriminatory policies in place because the campus is a primarily educational environment used daily by a diverse group of people. Vanderbilt is not coming between these students and their beliefs but providing protections to other students by promoting an atmosphere of tolerance.

crunchycheetos said...

Honestly, I don't understand why there seems to be such a backlash from students? A non-discriminatory policy is standard for most colleges. I'm also not sure why someone's sexual orientation should be a factor in anything they do school related or otherwise.

Preston L.

Vugdalic A said...

This to me sounds a lot like the Christian Legal Society v. Wu, or the Hastings college case. The college has a nondiscrimination policy that allows students to join and potentially run for leadership positions in any organization on campus without regards to their religious beliefs or sexual orientation. My opinion is that the organizations should not be worried about people joining their organization that do not follow their beliefs, since people know going into the organization what it stands for I doubt you will get people that are opposed to such ideas and thoughts joining the group and running for leadership position knowing that they could potentially face backlash from the group.

Noorin K. said...

If a student is paying for the organization budgets and meeting space and has a true interest in the actual organization then I believe they should be allowed to participate. Sexual orientation is a private matter and school organization is a public matter. I do not understand why anyone could think they go together. This was an exciting piece to read since my sister is actually a student at Vanderbilt University. She is a Muslim student who decided to get involved with the Hindu student organization to learn more about a tradition and culture that she had known the bare minimum about. She gained insight and respect for the tradition and participated in their festivities and even performed at the Diwali show. Allowing other people into your world can help you and the other gain insight, and I see nothing wrong with mixing things up a bit as long as there is an genuine interest in the matter.