Vanderbilt University: Refusal to Approve Constitutions of Student Groups that Require Leaders to Share Beliefs


Vanderbilt University

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Case Overview


The Vanderbilt chapter of the Christian Legal Society (CLS) was told in April 2011 that recognition of its constitution would be "deferred," and Vanderbilt claimed that the group's Statement of Faith violated university policies prohibiting organizations from selecting leaders based on religious belief. Vanderbilt even told CLS that it was not allowed to expect its leaders "to lead Bible studies, prayer and worship." Despite FIRE's September 2011 letter to Vanderbilt and the ensuing uproar in the local and national media and on campus, in January 2012 Chancellor Nicholas Zeppos persisted in the discriminatory treatment of belief-based student organizations, stating that membership must be open to everyone, even those who do not share the group's beliefs and seek to undermine it. By prohibiting groups from maintaining their identities, Vanderbilt is discriminating against political and religious organizations and violating its promises to its students. In spring 2012, Vanderbilt Catholic refused to affiliate with the university under the new policy and 11 other organizations flouted the policy in solidarity when they applied for recognition as belief-based groups.