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Apr 9, 2012, Vol. 17, No. 29 • By THE SCRAPBOOK
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When we last checked in on Vanderbilt University, the administration was defending its “all comers” policy for leadership in religious student organizations. In the name of compliance with its nondiscrimination policy, the university decreed that religious groups must not bar students from eligibility for leadership positions based on, among other factors, their religious beliefs. Five religious student groups were placed on probation for failing to adopt this in practice, while other faith groups around campus, including Vanderbilt Catholic, openly protested the policy.

Unfortunately for campus Catholics and Vanderbilt community members of all faiths, the leadership of Vandy Catholic has decided not to reregister as a student organization for the upcoming fall semester. “The discriminatory nondiscrimination policy of Vanderbilt University has forced our hand,” said Father John Sims Baker, the university’s Catholic chaplain, in a statement posted on the group’s website. A letter signed by Vandy Catholic’s five student leaders explains the decision further:

After much reflection, discussion, and prayer, we have decided that Vanderbilt+Catholic cannot in good conscience affirm that we comply with this policy. While organizational skills and leadership abilities are important qualifications for leaders of Vanderbilt+Catholic, the primary qualification for leadership is Catholic faith and practice. We are a faith-based organization. A Catholic student organization led by someone who neither professes the Catholic faith nor strives to live it out would not be able to serve its members as an authentically Catholic organization. We cannot sign the affirmation form because to do so would be to lie to the university and to ourselves about who we are as an organization.

While this policy may change our status as a registered student organization, it will not change our mission. We will continue to serve the Vanderbilt community as a welcoming and faithful Catholic campus ministry, proposing Jesus Christ in all that we do.

“We regret, but respect, their decision,” university spokeswoman Beth Fortune emailed the Tennessean. “We believe, though, that the vast majority of our more than 400 registered student organizations easily will comply with the policy.”

Of course, Vandy Catholic will no longer be among those 400 student organizations, depriving Catholics and even interested non-Catholics among Vanderbilt’s undergraduates easy access to a vibrant student group. Baker has said that the group will reorganize off-campus, with the blessing of Nashville’s bishop, but the fact that Vandy Catholic found its continued affiliation with the university untenable speaks volumes about the values of the Vanderbilt administration.

Is it desirable for the university to continue defending a policy that makes little practical sense and is, intentionally or not, hostile to religious students who wish to organize themselves according to the tenets of their faith? Is it in the university’s interest to portray itself to prospective students as intolerant of peaceful expressions of faith and of organizations that seek to foster such expressions?

If the Vanderbilt administration truly regrets the loss of the group, it’s not too late to undo the new policy and reinstate freedom of association.

Don’t Let the Door Hit You . . . 

Current TV, a.k.a. the Al Gore cable channel that no one watches, released a rather unsurprising statement this past Friday afternoon. You don’t need a Yale Ph.D. in Comparative Literature to read the bitterness between the lines of this press release:

We created Current to give voice to those Americans who refuse to rely on corporate-controlled media and are seeking an authentic progressive outlet. We are more committed to those goals today than ever before. Current was also founded on the values of respect, openness, collegiality, and loyalty to our viewers. Unfortunately these values are no longer reflected in our relationship with Keith Olbermann and we have ended it. 

According to the New York Times account, “Olbermann will not be given an opportunity to sign off.”

Ouch. In case you were wondering, Current TV has announced that it has already found a successor to Olbermann, who presumably does embody the “values of respect, openness, collegiality, and loyalty to our viewers”—Eliot “Client No. 9” Spitzer.

Earl Scruggs, 1924-2012

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