Defending the Judeo-Christian Heritage, limited government, and the American Constitution
Saturday February 6th 2016

The Battle for Vanderbilt Goes National


That’s the title of a post by John Leo at the Manhattan Institute’s excellent “Minding the Campus” blog, and it’s undoubtedly true. The battle for religious liberty at Vanderbilt is drawing the attention of CNN, Fox News, the Washington Post, and many other national outlets. The video above, produced by ACLJ’s outstanding videographers at the request of concerned students and parents, has been viewed more than 20,000 times – a huge number for a video dealing with a local campus issue.

Why? Why is a controversy at this southern private school drawing this much attention? Two reasons: Nonsense and hypocrisy.

First, the nonsense. Vanderbilt is telling religious student groups that they cannot limit leadership to those students who share the groups’ mission and faith. Imagine if your church was required to open its search for a new pastor to Hindus, atheists, and Buddhists. Imagine if your local chapter of the Republican or Democratic parties was required to open itself to, say, communists or fascists. There is no conceivable interest in requiring such empty-headed openness – unless, of course, you’re trying to drive certain student groups off campus.

Second, the hypocrisy. Even as Vanderbilt is claiming that it’s merely trying to end discrimination on campus (an interesting claim from an elite university that discriminates in its admissions policies, taking only 16.4% of applicants), it is working hard to protect the special privileges of fraternities and sororities on campus. These organizations not only discriminate on the basis of gender, they have a history of hazing, and they are highly selective when rushing and pledging students.

Vanderbilt’s attack on religious liberty has drawn the attention of the state legislature. Vanderbilt is a private school, but it also receives tens of millions of dollars in state funds. How long will Tennessee taxpayers want to subsidize a nonsensical, hypocritical attack on religious liberty and academic freedom?

David French is a Senior Counsel for the ACLJ. A Kentucky native, David is a 1994 graduate (cum laude) of Harvard Law School in Cambridge, Massachusetts and a 1991 graduate (summa cum laude, valedictorian) of Lipscomb University in Nashville, Tennessee. David has been a commercial litigation partner for a large law firm, taught at Cornell Law School, served as president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), and currently serves as a Senior Counsel at the American Center for Law and Justice. He is the author of multiple books, including A Season for Justice: Defending the Rights of the Christian Home, Church, and School and the upcoming Home and Away: The Story of Family in a Time of War.

Used with the permission of the American Center for Law and Justice.