Class of Profile | Prospective Students | Law School | Vanderbilt University
This is not so much hypocritical or cynical though it may be that as well as simply embarrassingly ignorant. Vanderbilt does not appear even to recognize that its actions are intolerant. It thinks it is protecting its community from improper influences, just as it once thought that segregation protected its community. Martinez , a case involving another Christian Legal Society chapter, at a state university law school. The decision, I think, badly interprets general First Amendment principles and prior cases, as the dissent powerfully shows, but that is beside the point for present purposes.
Clearly, Vanderbilt is mimicking the policy upheld in Christian Legal Society , even though it is a private school. Of course, Christian Legal Society does not require such a policy even at public schools: it is clear that both private and public institutions may allow student groups freedom of association with respect to their membership criteria.
Some favor such compulsion. For every Vanderbilt wishing to suppress religious student groups, there is a religious college, secondary school, ministry, or other religious community that wishes to maintain the integrity of its religious principles. No one committed to religious associational freedom should lightly embrace the principle that the State legitimately has authority to prescribe, regulate, or punish the membership practices of a private expressive organization. Tolerating bad apples like Vanderbilt means some rotten results.
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But it also means that good fruit can be borne by good religious institutions that stick to their principles. Consider in this last respect the infamous Supreme Court case of Berea College v. Kentucky from , in many ways a mirror image of the Christian Legal Society case a century later. Berea College, a small Christian college, insisted as a matter of Christian principle that it was right and proper to teach the races together. The awfulness of Berea College v. But it also teaches a broader lesson: the values of freedom and diversity are promoted not through coerced uniformity but by allowing private groups to do as they think best—to define their own principles and practices, and to maintain their own expressive identities as private groups.
Properly understood, the First Amendment requires no less. But, in turn, if Vanderbilt is truly committed to freedom and diversity—if that is the expressive identity it desires—it should embrace the same principle for its student groups: campus religious groups should be permitted to be who they want to be.
And that means respecting the rights of campus Christian student groups to be Christian and to maintain a Christian identity by expecting their leaders to embrace the religious beliefs, standards, lifestyle, and mission that define the identity of a disciple of Jesus Christ. A new book examines the philosophical and religious roots of American government. Amid scholarly disagreement,….
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