- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 29, 2012

A Christian student group said this week that it will not apply to be recognized as an official club at Vanderbilt University because of the school policy making it mandatory that it accept nonbelievers as members - or even officers - of the organization.

Vanderbilt Catholic, a group for Catholic students at the private Nashville, Tenn., school, confirmed that the club will not reregister as an official student organization because of the policy, but will operate as an independent, off-campus ministry.

Last fall, Vanderbilt placed four Christian conservative groups on “provisional status” because they violated the school’s nondiscrimination policy, which holds that all students be eligible to join any sanctioned club.

Vanderbilt Catholic was not one of the groups, but the club’s leaders could see the writing on the wall.

“Our purpose has always been to share the Gospel and proudly to proclaim our Catholic faith,” said the Rev. John Sims Baker, the group’s chaplain. “What other reason could there be for a Catholic organization at Vanderbilt? How can we say it is not important that a Catholic lead a Catholic organization?”

Vanderbilt’s nondiscrimination policy states that clubs cannot bar students from joining or holding office on the basis of criteria such as race, gender or - most controversially - belief.

The school re-evaluated its policies after a Christian fraternity expelled a member because he was gay.

Chancellor Nicholas Zeppos defended the policy in a January letter to the college community: “At Vanderbilt, we firmly believe that discrimination is wrong. Individuals must be judged as individuals, not members of groups.”

Vanderbilt Catholic decided that adhering to the university’s new policy would violate the organization’s Catholic beliefs.

“They have stated their position straightforwardly, and we have, too,” Father Baker said.

Father Baker said the relationship between the club and the school is still amicable, and he is meeting with the college to discuss how his group will continue to interact with the campus.

“We still want to serve the Catholic students at Vanderbilt University,” he said.

Other Christian groups are considering their options.

Graduate Christian Fellowship, a ministry for graduate students that focuses on integrating faith, studies and practice, is weighing whether it can continue as an official, university-sanctioned organization.

“At this point, it would be premature to say for sure,” said Tish Warren, a leader of the group.

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