“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government to a redress of grievances. “
– The First Amendment to the United States Constitution –
Lately, my friend (and fellow Wise Guy) Joseph Williams, a former TFA colleague who is currently studying law at Vanderbilt University, has brought a current collegiate trend to my attention.
Back in April, Vanderbilt passed an “anti-discrimination” policy. It says “all registered student organizations must be open to all students as members and must permit all members in good standing to seek leadership posts.” Basically, it meant that if you were a student club – you need to be willing to accept all students, and let them seek leadership positions – no matter what.
In my opinion, there are three major problems with this policy.
First, the policy makes no sense in context when you think about any club ever created. The essence of a club is to create community around a common interest or ideal – something that separates that club from all other students on campus. Clubs are inherently exclusive. It’s what makes them clubs. Some people are in them, some people are not. Should a student knitting club be open to all people no matter what? No – it’s only there for students interested in knitting. Are all students welcome to come and learn about knitting? Yes. But the heart of the organization is for those enamored with knitting, exclusively. The premise of allowing all students to seek leadership positions in whatever club they want makes little sense – because to be seeking leadership within a club – you need to meet the criteria of the club in the first place.
Second, the anti-discrimination policy makes no sense in the college environment. If Vanderbilt is calling selectivity “discrimination” then it, as a university, is breaking its own policy. At last count, Vanderbilt’s acceptance rate is sixteen percent, meaning that eighty-four percent of students who want to join Vanderbilt are turned away. The selectivity of Yale, Harvard, and other schools who have also passed similar “anti-discrimination” policies are well known. These schools select students based on a variety of factors: intellect, high school performance, and yes, even ethnicity. Why can Vanderbilt have standards for choosing its students, but organizations can’t have requirements for their members?
Finally, the most disturbing part of this policy is that it is aimed specifically at Christian organizations. While fraternities and sororities are given a wide exemption to discriminate in choosing members (based on sex, history with the greek organization, and whether or not people think you meet some undefined standard of cool), Christian clubs like FCA, Young Life, and the Christian fraternity Beta Upsilon Chi are not able to create standards (yes, religious standards) for their groups. Though each of these organizations is open to including all students—their main problem with the policy is that it requires organizations to allow non-professing or practicing students to run for leadership positions.
There’s a difference between discrimination and discernment. Why shouldn’t a Christian organization be allowed to require people running for office to be Christians?
Perhaps you’ve had contact with Christians that are hatefully discriminatory. People who look down on others because of their choices or behavior. I am really sorry about that. Jesus welcomed men, women and children. He spoke to people you were supposed to ignore, healed people you were supposed to avoid, and ate at the same table as prostitutes and thieves. He did not discriminate. He said to love your neighbor as yourself. He hated religious self-righteousness.
But he also chose 12 disciples to know him best, and serve the world when he was gone. He had a club. And the rules were simple. “Follow me.”
The first amendment ought to protect us from any policy that would hinder our ability to answer that call.