Gov. Haslam has vetoed the bill that tried to force Vanderbilt
University to exempt student religious groups from its "all-comers" nondiscrimination
policy. That policy prohibits discrimination on the part of any student group except for sororities and fraternities. If an avowed atheist wants to join a Christian group, the Christian group would have to admit him.
In vetoing HB 3576/SB 3597, the Governor said, "It is counter-intuitive to make campus organizations open their membership and leadership positions to anyone and everyone, even when potential members philosophically disagree with the core values and beliefs of the organization. I don't agree with Vanderbilt's policy, I think it's wrong. But I just also don't think the state, in this case, should tell a private institution what it should do."
I agree with the Governor. I have been a supporter of the Students fighting for religious liberty at Vanderbilt. I have posted on this blog the video urging alumni to withhold funds to Vanderbilt. I think Vanderbilt s policy of prohibiting organization from restricting membership to people who adhere to their values and beliefs is simply wrong. I do not, however, think that everything that is wrong should be illegal. If Vanderbilt wants to deny students on their campus the right to practice their faith, Vanderbilt should have that right. I believe private institutions should be free to discriminate.
I know that many who have followed this issue and many on the religious right are going to be upset with the governor. My morning email is full of denunciations of the Governor's decision.
Below is the email sent out by Kevin Kookogey Chairman of the Williamson County Republican Party:
It is purely a political decision that a school that receives $24 million in taxpayer dollars can be deemed "private."
In the Grove City case (which also included Hillsdale College), the SCOTUS held that a college which received even INDIRECT funding from the federal government was bound by all federal laws. In that case, Grove City College and Hillsdale were not recipients of any federal funds, but they admitted some students whose loans were federally guaranteed, like Stafford loans. Even that was enough, in the opinion of the SCOTUS, to deem those colleges "public" and thus bound by all federal regs. Of course, in order to maintain their independent educational missions, Grove City and Hillsdale wisely determined to no longer admit students who were paying tuition with any federally guaranteed loans.
It seems to me that in the long run this issue with Vandy is better addressed head on by the legislature deeming any school that receives ANY state funding, directly or indirectly, "public" for proposes of compliance with the laws. This would then obviate the need for making special amendments which give the Governor an excuse to veto under specious claims of wanting to limit government, a claim undermined by the Governor's own press release this morning boasting of taxpayer goodies and grants about which he was proud.