Hoppy’s Commentary for Friday

In a general, let’s-make-the-world-a-better-place kind of way, it’s hard to disagree with the new nondiscrimination policy at Nashville’s Vanderbilt University. 

The “all-comers” policy requires that campus organizations’ membership and leadership positions be open to all students regardless of “race, sex, religion, color, national or ethnic origin, age, disability, military service or genetic information.”

I mean, can’t we all just get along?

University leaders believe they need the policy to prevent prejudicial treatment of some students.  It grew out of a finding by Vanderbilt that a Christian fraternity had discriminated against a gay student by kicking him out of the fraternity.  

Tuesday night, several hundred students, most of them from, or in support of, campus Christian groups opposed to the policy, gathered for a University town hall meeting.  Even more students congregated outside Furman Hall after all the seats were taken.

They argued that the policy infringes on their right to freely associate with whomever they choose.  Additionally, they argue that it triggers reverse discrimination.

For example, if the Christian fraternity is forced to accept men who do not share their beliefs, then aren’t members of the fraternity being discriminated against by the University?

Or, put another way, is the right of the Vanderbilt Black Law Students Association to associate with fellow students of their choosing violated if the University forces the Association to accept a student who belongs to the Ku Klux Klan?

Interestingly, the “all-comers” policy does not apply to Greek life.  Fraternities still pick and choose their members while sororities are not being forced to accept men.  If Vanderbilt had a true “all-comers” policy, all campus organizations would be forced to comply.

That, of course, is absurd. 

But, remarkably, a Vanderbilt official at the town hall meeting said with a straight face that the University may, indeed, have to take a serious look at the sex-exclusive sororities and fraternities.

The reality, however, is that “all-comers” is another example of political correctness run amuck; an institution believing that it can, for the greater good, require people to sacrifice their core beliefs and have their Constitutional rights violated.  

One of the beauties of colleges is that they are havens of divergent views.  The campus can have the Old Testament Christian Club and the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Association.  The Anarchist Student Union can meet on Tuesday night while the Patriotic American Student Front can use the same room on Thursday.

They’re all constitutionally protected by the awe-inspiring and powerful First Amendment, which protects speech (particularly unpopular speech), religious liberty and assembly (freedom of association). 

How can the Christian clubs at Vanderbilt exercise their religious liberty when the school is inserting itself into their membership decisions? 

Vanderbilt would have a real problem if it started picking and choosing which groups and, therefore, what speech to allow.  Then the outliers would have valid cause to make a discrimination complaint. 

But that’s not the issue at Vanderbilt, unless the school decides to punish student organizations that refuse to comply with the “all-comers” policy.  

By the way, as you may have guessed, not everyone who applies, gets into Vanderbilt.  The University stresses that it does not “employ cutoffs” for standardized testing and grade-point averages.  Instead, Vanderbilt looks “for students who have demonstrated strong academic skills and a depth of intellectual curiosity, who have actively contributed to their community.”

It sounds as though Vanderbilt is using somewhat subjective criteria to decide who it wants to let become a Commodore.  It should let its student organizations do the same.





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