A proposed Tennessee law could allow faith-based student organizations at public colleges to limit membership to only those who share the group’s religious beliefs. State Senator Mae Beavers (R-Mt. Juliet) has introduced anew version of a bill that Governor Bill Haslam vetoed last year following controversy at Vanderbilt University over its non-discrimination agreement.
Vanderbilt requires that student groups register with the Dean of Students’ office, and sign a non-discrimination agreement. The Vanderbilt Catholic group – concerned that its inability to limit membership could result in members and/or leaders who didn’t share the group’s Catholic faith – gave up its official student organization status rather than sign the agreement. The organization not only gave up its official status, but was asked by the University to change its name. The organization renamed itself University Catholic.
“The discriminatory non-discrimination policy at Vanderbilt University has forced our hand,” said Father John Sims Baker, chaplain of University Catholic in a statement at the time. “Our purpose has always been to share the Gospel and proudly proclaim our Catholic faith. What other reason could there be for a Catholic organization at Vanderbilt? How can we say it is not important that a Catholic lead a Catholic organization?”
University officials have said that the debate is over non-discrimination rather than religious freedom.
Beavers’ original bill passed the state legislature in 2012.The governor vetoed it because he didn’t feel the state should be enacting legislation that impacts religious institutions. The new bill applies only to public universities.
“We’re bringing that back, to apply to our public institutions…to make sure that you’re not forced to accept people who do not believe the same way you do,”said Beavers.
Religious leaders at the University of Tennessee support the bill.
“Rules of political correctness frequently have very good intentions, but they usually result in less freedom and an atmosphere that is intolerable,” said Fr. Stephen Freeman, priest-advisor of the Orthodox Christian Fellowship, at the University of Tennessee.
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