Recently, a Christian student group at Vanderbilt University has been told by the school’s administration that it will lose its recognized status on campus unless the group removes its requirement that its leaders have a “personal commitment to Jesus Christ.” Administrators at the school had previously ruled that religious organizations must now allow any Vanderbilt student to be a candidate for a leadership office, regardless of religious beliefs or sexual orientation. For example, a Christian student group would be forced to allow the candidacy of an atheist and Jewish groups would be forced to allow Wiccans to be considered for the group’s leader.
The irony, says John Murray, is that the very freedom Vanderbilt administrators have to deprive students of their freedom of religious association derives from a 19th-century Supreme Court case that led to the proliferation of Christian colleges such as Vanderbilt:
Dartmouth College vs. Woodward originated in 1815, when the Dartmouth Board of Trustees fired the college president, who then appealed to the state legislature for intervention. Having granted Dartmouth’s charter in 1769, the New Hampshire legislature revoked it, instead forming the University of Dartmouth and filling its board with state supporters.
Very few students attended the new university, and the original one remained intact with 130 students. It was a diminished institution without state support, but with persecution came blessing—including a “wonderful interest [in Christ],” according to the record of the Dartmouth Theological Society, and the conversion of 60 students.
A similar blessing took place this spring at Vanderbilt. Student leaders of the 13 religious organizations opposing the school’s policy began meeting at least twice a month to pray together. As World on Campus reported, “Even if they don’t succeed in persuading administrators to rescind the policy, [one student leader said he] believes they’ve already won the spiritual battle and learned the lesson God was trying to teach.”