Robert Shibley at FIRE gives commentary on an article recently published in Christianity Today by Tish Harrison Warren, a former religious student group leader whose religious beliefs were stifled by Vanderbilt’s ‘All-Comers’ Policy:
A Victim of Vanderbilt’s So-Called ‘All-Comers’ Policy Speaks Out
Tish Harrison Warren, a former religious student group leader at Vanderbilt University, has authored a poignant article in Christianity Today about the effect on her life of a policy decision Vanderbilt made two years ago.
In the wake of the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Christian Legal Society v. Martinez, Vanderbilt prohibited belief-based student organizations such as religious and political groups from making belief-based choices about their leadership and membership. The all-too-appropriate title of her article is “The Wrong Kind of Christian,” since the result of Vanderbilt’s so-called “all-comers” policy (“so-called” because it allows fraternities and sororities not to take all comers) is that some religious believers are welcome at Vanderbilt while some are not. Far from being inclusive, Warren’s article (like this earlier story out of Bowdoin College) brings into stark relief the exclusion that results when freedom of association is trampled on campus.
In May 2011, Vanderbilt’s director of religious life told me that the group I’d helped lead for two years, Graduate Christian Fellowship—a chapter of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship—was on probation. We had to drop the requirement that student leaders affirm our doctrinal and purpose statement, or we would lose our status as a registered student organization.
In writing, the new policy refers only to constitutionally protected classes (race, religion, sexual identity, and so on), but Vanderbilt publicly adopted an “all comers policy,” which meant that no student could be excluded from a leadership post on ideological grounds. College Republicans must allow Democrats to seek office; the environmental group had to welcome climate-change skeptics; and a leader of a religious group could not be dismissed if she renounced faith midyear. (The administration granted an exception to sororities and fraternities.)
Warren’s beliefs don’t appear to be particularly exotic; she opens the article by assuring readers, “I’m not a fundamentalist. My friends and I enjoy art, alcohol, and cultural engagement. We avoid spiritual clichés and buzzwords. We value authenticity, study, racial reconciliation, and social and environmental justice.”
A Victim of Vanderbilt’s So-Called ‘All-Comers’ Policy Speaks Out (FIRE)