FIRE in ‘National Review Online’ on Impact of Discriminatory ‘All-Comers’ Policy at Vanderbilt

By on February 6, 2012

This morning in National Review Online, FIRE Senior Vice President Robert Shibley explores the negative impact of the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Christian Legal Society v. Martinez for students at Vanderbilt and nationwide.

Focusing on Vanderbilt University’s recent invocation of the case to justify its decision to ban belief-based student groups from requiring that group leaders actually share the group’s stated values, Robert writes:

The complications of adopting ["all-comers"] policies have delayed their adoption by many public universities. Ohio even passed a law against such policies at its state schools. Yet the Supreme Court’s seeming endorsement inspired Vanderbilt to jump in with both feet – despite the fact that the Supreme Court’s decision did not affect private universities. (Private universities are not subject to the First Amendment and may completely abolish religious freedom if they wish; few do.) Last fall, it announced that a new "all comers" policy would soon be enforced, and after months of avoiding questions from nearly everyone under the sun, including FIRE, the National Association of Evangelicals, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and 23 members of Congress, Vanderbilt finally held a "town hall" discussion on its decision on January 31. While the discussion was scheduled to last 90 minutes, religious students showed up with so many concerns that it ran for three hours and was so packed that many were turned away at the doors.

A video of the meeting leads the viewer to a startling revelation: Vanderbilt administrators are adopting the policy for the purpose of undermining certain religious beliefs, and, as usual, evangelical and Catholic Christians are the main targets. This is just the kind of use of an all-comers policy that the Supreme Court, in the Martinez case, said would be unacceptable in a school that had to respect the First Amendment.

Be sure to check out Robert’s article in full.

Schools: Vanderbilt University Cases: Nationwide: “All-comers” Policies Jeopardize Free Association Vanderbilt University: Refusal to Approve Constitutions of Student Groups that Require Leaders to Share Beliefs