For some time now, I’ve been engaged in the fight for religious liberty at Vanderbilt University, where one of the South’s (formerly?) great educational institutions has decided to wage a rather strange war on “discrimination.” Like many universities before it, Vanderbilt is trying to open Christian student groups to leadership by non-Christians, and they’re doing so in the name of “nondiscrimination” and even “civil rights” — explicitly comparing Christian groups to segregationists.
The reality, of course, is that Vanderbilt is trying to force the orthodox Christian viewpoint off campus. The “nondiscrimination” rhetoric is mere subterfuge. How can we know this? Because even as it works mightily to make sure that atheists can run Christian organizations, it is working just as mightily to protect the place and prerogatives of Vanderbilt’s powerful fraternities and sororities — organizations that explicitly discriminate, have never been open to “all comers,” and cause more real heartache each semester for rejected students than any religious organization has ever inflicted in its entire history on campus. Vanderbilt’s embattled religious organizations welcome all students with open arms; Vanderbilt’s fraternities and sororities routinely reject their fellow students based on little more than appearance, family heritage, or personality quirks.
But where are the brave warriors for inclusiveness in the face of the annual Greek-dominated festival of exclusion called “rushing” and “pledging”? Nowhere to be found, of course. For two reasons: First, they’re not really fighting for inclusion. They’re fighting to exclude orthodox Christianity from campus and using the language of inclusion as a mere rhetorical club. Second, they recognize real political power when they see it, and they’d never dare mess with a sorority/fraternity system that has existed for decades, maintains a vibrant alumni network, and works to draw new students to campus. In other words, the administration has chosen the soft target, the more vulnerable population.
Fortunately, however, the Christian community on campus is resisting. This week, the largest Christian group on campus, Vandy Catholic, has announced that it will leave campus rather than comply with university demands. In the coming weeks, other Christian groups — representing hundreds more students — will also respond as well. The university has long told its critics that the religious objectors to Vanderbilt’s policy were in the decided minority (as if that somehow justified the university’s abuse of liberty), but the reality is quite different. The Catholic-Protestant unity in response to Vanderbilt’s intolerance reflects the Christian unity in response to Obama’s HHS mandate and demonstrates a deep commitment to liberty and inclusion — genuine inclusion, not the veiled repression inherent in Vanderbilt’s double standard.