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The Furor over Religious non-discrimination at Vanderbilt

Vanderbilt University alumnus John Murray published an op-ed in today’s edition of the Wall Street Journal on the furor in Tennessee raised over Governor Bill Haslam’s threat to veto state legislation opposing the university’s announced policies of non-discrimination for student religious groups on campus.  The furor was created when it was revealed that the new university policy could force many Christian, Jewish even Muslim groups to go off campus because of the more than $24 million in state aid provided to this elite university in Nashville, nicknamed “the Harvard of the South”.

Haslam’s rationale for abetting cultural relativism at Vanderbilt, originally founded as a Christian institution, is that the legislation passed by both the House and Senate in Tennessee would interfere with the administration of a private university, hence, his veto threat.  One Vanderbilt alumnus told us that for campus Christian and Jewish groups to remain on campus, they might have to elect a member of the Muslim Student Association to the board or even the head of these non-Muslim religious student activities as evidence of non-discrimination.  

You may recall the University’s reaction to the furor raised by the Muslim chaplain at Vanderbilt Awadh A. Binhazim. He suggested in response to a student query during a program on “what it means to be a Muslim” that Shariah Islamic law condoned death sentences for gays.  The exchange was:

"Under Islamic law, is it punishable by death if you are a homosexual?"

Binhazim's answer? "Yes.".

Watch the YouTube video exchange with Binhazim.

The University’s response was to consider Binhazim’s reply as protected speech (an extension of the 1964 US Supreme Court Brandenburg decision):

"No view expressed at a Project Dialogue or similar campus forum should be construed as being endorsed by Vanderbilt. The university is dedicated to the free exchange of ideas. It is the belief of the university community that free discussion of ideas can lead to resolution and reconciliation."

Fast forward to the current debate over the new Vanderbilt policy with regard to non-discrimination in religious student activities.  Have we heard from the Vanderbilt Center for the First Amendment on this debate? A review of current press opinion from the First Amendment Center website found nothing on this topic.

For background read this excerpt from John Murray’s WSJ op- ed, “The Religious Battle of Vanderbilt”:

Last week, Tennessee legislators sent a message to Vanderbilt University: Religious liberty matters. Large majorities in both houses passed a bill to prohibit the school from interfering in the ability of student groups to select their own leaders and members, define their own doctrines and resolve their own disputes—or Vanderbilt risks losing $24 million in state funding.

The legislation follows Vanderbilt's decision to stop recognizing campus religious organizations that require their leaders to accept certain religious beliefs on which they are founded. The Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Vanderbilt Catholic, Navigators and other groups—ministering to about 1,500 students—would effectively be moved off campus in the name of "nondiscrimination."

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam has stated that although he opposes Vanderbilt's policy, he plans to veto the bill because it is "inappropriate for government to mandate the policies of a private institution." (Thirty-six members of Congress have urged the university to reconsider, stating that its exemption of fraternities and sororities but not religious groups "suggests hostility on the part of Vanderbilt toward religious student groups.") (Read More)

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