NASHVILLE — Thirty-six members of the Congressional Prayer Caucus, including four Tennessee lawmakers, are urging Vanderbilt University to modify its "all-comers" nondiscrimination policy that has nearly a dozen religious groups complaining the private school has forced them to choose between their beliefs or leaving the campus.
"We are deeply concerned that Vanderbilt University's nondiscrimination policy is being applied in a manner that targets religious student organizations, creating an environment that's hostile to their existence on campus," says the congressmen's letter to Mark Dalton, chairman of the university's board of trustrees, Chancellor Nicholas Zeppo and other trustees.
Those signing the letter include U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn.; U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischman, R-Tenn.; U.S. Rep. Diane Black, R-Tenn.; and U.S. Rep. Stephen Fincher, R-Tenn.
Vanderbilt's policy says campus organizations cannot discriminate among its members. The Tennessee General Assembly recently passed legislation that prevents state colleges and universities from implementing similar policies. None currently do. At the last minute, lawmakers inserted a provision including Vanderbilt.
Republican Gov. Bill Haslam announced last week that while he disagreed with Vanderbilt's policy, he planned on vetoing the measure because "as someone who strongly believes in limited government, I think it is inappropriate for government to mandate the policies of a private institution."
The congressmen's letter, sent last week, asks school officials to "modify the policy to allow these groups to remain part of the official Vanderbilt community while also preserving their religious identities."
After Haslam announced his decision to veto the state bill, Zeppo last week issued a statement in which he said "while we respect the governor's position on Vanderbilt's policy, we are gratified by his rejection of government intrusion into private institutions and their ability to govern and set policies themselves."
Andy Sher is a Nashville-based staff writer covering Tennessee state government and politics for the Times Free Press. A Washington correspondent from 1999-2005 for the Times Free Press, Andy previously headed up state Capitol coverage for The Chattanooga Times, worked as a state Capitol reporter for The Nashville Banner and was a contributor to The Tennessee Journal, among other publications. Andy worked for 17 years at The Chattanooga Times covering police, health care, county government, ...