Tennessee Legislators Attack Religious Freedom and University Autonomy

In an example of terrible legislation, the Tennessee House and Senate this week approved a new law (if it’s signed by the governor) compelling public universities (and the private Vanderbilt University) to allow student groups to discriminate against students based on religious beliefs and private behavior. It’s an attack on the religious liberty of individuals, and a violation of university autonomy.

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CUA President John Garvey’s Misguided View of Religious Liberty

This essay by Peter N. Kirstein (a professor of history at St. Xavier University, Vice President of the Illinois Conference of the AAUP and is chair of the Illinois Conference Committee A on Academic Freedom and Tenure) originally appeared on his blog.

By Peter N. Kirstein

John Garvey, president of censured Catholic University of America (CUA), a pontifical university that has a dismal record of aggressively promoting conformity to religious theological dogma over academic freedom, is protesting the government’s alleged encroachment on Catholic and religious institutions across the spectrum of American life. Beware of university presidents who believe truth is not subject to continuous skepticism and revisionism!

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Religious Freedom at Vanderbilt

Vanderbilt University has been under attack from FIRE and other conservatives for requiring all student groups to follow the campus non-discrimination policy in their constitutions. The Christian Legal Society, which imposes a Statement of Faith on all campus student leaders, has objected.

I can never get anyone to answer my question about what I see as the greatest danger of CLS’ position. Who, exactly, should be given the authority to evaluate a student’s religious beliefs and determine whether they obey the Statement of Faith? Should it be the administration who enforces student group constitutions when someone alleges a violation? Should it be the students in the group by their selection of leaders? If it’s the latter, shouldn’t we all oppose a faith-based constitutional requirement for student leaders that overturns the student-selected leaders and allows the administration to impose its will on students? And if the national CLS wants to be given the power to overrule students and pick student leaders (as it did in the CLS v. Martinez case), anyone concerned about student choice and college autonomy must object to giving an outside group total control over student organizations.

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