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Anti-Discrimination Policy Ventures Too Far

My friend Ted sent me an interesting story about accusations of discrimination and counter-discrimination at Vanderbilt University.

The hook on this story is that the head of one of four Christian groups on campus claims the school’s sudden clampdown on group constitutions means the suppression of religion.

As the story goes, it all began when a gay student was allegedly blocked from joining a fraternity. The accusation of discrimination in that case made the school take a closer look at the constitution of all groups.

The sticking point with at least one of the Christian groups is a requirement that officers of the Christian group must “lead Bible studies, prayer and worship at chapter meetings.”

This, the school seems to believe, is discriminatory because student organizations cannot require that leaders of a group share the group’s beliefs, goals and values.

While I can respect Vanderbilt’s goal of not discriminating against anyone, I think it’s clear that they’re going too far in their efforts.

It would be discrimination if the rules said that anyone who wished to attend must subscribe to specific beliefs or must participate in dictated rituals. They don’t.

They say that leaders of the group must perform a certain additional level of Christian-based activities.

That’s not discrimination; it’s common sense.

No one would have a problem with the captain of a swim team being expected to know how to swim. They wouldn’t raise an eyebrow if officers of a debate team were expected to be able to lead a debate.

At most, the group’s constitution is putting in writing what its members and even those who aren’t members would expect, anyway: the higher up you go in any organization, the more expectations are placed on you, and the more you must be willing to accept and lead with the beliefs and strategies of the group.

If you can’t do that, then you shouldn’t be an officer of the group. And you almost certainly wouldn’t, no matter what a group’s constitution says or doesn’t say.

Otherwise, that group could be infiltrated by those whose beliefs are different for the purpose of causing conflict. Before you dismiss that concern as outrageous conspiracy theory, it has happened before. The Christian Legal Society faced precisely that situation at Washburn University Law School, the article points out. A student with differing beliefs was allowed to lead a Bible study until that group stopped him. He complained, the school placed the group on “provisional status,” and the group sued.

The higher up you go in a group, the more they’ll expect of you. That’s what being a leader means. If you’re not smart enough to figure that out, you need to spend a few more years in high school: you aren’t ready for college, yet.

2 Comments

  1. I think that Vanderbilt University should allow the Christian group as long as the group allows all students to be members and leaders. There was a case this past spring that went to the Supreme Court where a Christian group at one of the University of California campuses only allowed evangelist Christian to be members. The court ruled that it must be open to all students for them to receive funding. So the Vanderbilt University group would have to be open to all and the leadership has to be open to any student if they want to receive student activity funding. If they do not want to be open to all students, depending on Vanderbilt University policy, they could be provided meeting space and not receive student activity funds. They could also meet at a church on campus or in the area.

    I was on the Student Government Organization (SGO) of the UConn School of Social Work and our charter said that any student organization had to be open to the full student body in order to receive funding. We had on campus a religiou organization that was recognized by the SGO and received student activity funds. We also had a Black, a Latino and a LGBT groups that also received funding from the SGO. I attended many of their functions even though I am not Jewish, Black or Latino. I attended the celebration of the Jewish holidays and a friend explained to me what they were doing.

    The Jewish group mission statement is…

    “The Jewish Social Work Alliance (JSWA) is dedicated to promoting an appreciation and understanding of Jewish social ethics, holiday celebrations and life cycles, Jewish experiences of oppression and liberation, and interfaith dialogue. The JSWA offers the opportunity to increase students’ awareness of Jewish traditions by organizing and promoting campus activities and events while strengthening communication and interaction among students through interpersonal dialogue and support.”

    The Jewish organization is a Tier III organization and receives funding from the SGO because they are open to all students.

    The Christian group on the main campus mission statement is…

    “Christian Students on Campus (CSOC) provides all students the opportunity to learn Bible truths, enjoy on-going fellowship, to know how to live a practical Christian life, and to bring the good news of Jesus Christ as Savior.”

    The Christian organization is a Tier II organization and does not receive funding from the SGO because they limit their membership. However, they do receive space for meetings on campus.

  2. I really think people suddenly love the word “discrimination” and feel that anything can be construed as such. If the group declined to allow someone of another faith to join, there might be a case for it. However, I say “might” – if the group’s purpose is to provide a group atmosphere for Christians only, the law may let it go. Even then, there will be someone who will sue just to see if they can.

    There was a man who applied for a server job at Hooters. Hooters declined his application for the obvious reasons… it’s called Hooters for a reason. Well, he put in a claim of discrimination based on gender and would you believe it? He won! I find that staggering (I know, I’m all about Human Resources and fairness, but come on! He wouldn’t exactly fit the uniform standards at Hooters! But you see how the law is – it takes a dim view.

    Still, this article just seems a little crazy. Yes, being an officer means exactly that. The level of knowledge specific to the group has to be there. How else can one run it?

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Patrick is a Christian with more than 28 years experience in professional writing, producing and marketing. His professional background also includes social media, reporting for broadcast television and the web, directing, videography and photography. He enjoys getting to know people over coffee and spending time with his dog.