Joining 36 of his fellow House lawmakers, Rep. Chuck Fleischmann signed his name to a letter urging Vanderbilt University leaders to modify a new policy mandating that university-recognized groups allow any student to participate and run for office—regardless of the student's personal beliefs.
In the letter dated May 3, members of the Congressional Prayer Caucus said they were "deeply concerned" about the policy's effect on religious organizations, suggesting it would create an environment described as "hostile to their existence on campus."
Tennessee representatives Marsha Blackburn, Diane Black and Stephen Fincher also signed the letter.
"Since our nation's founding, religious organizations have played an important role in enabling like-minded individuals to coalesce around a set of ideals, ensuring that their perspectives are given a strong voice in the public square," the letter reads. "This is sound public policy and is consistent with the protections afforded by our Constitution to religious exercise and freedom of assembly … We believe the public is only just beginning to see the fallout that will inevitably result from this policy."
The "all-comers" policy, which became the target of measures passed in both chambers of the Tennessee General Assembly last session, has not yet reached the desk of Gov. Bill Haslam. Despite stating his personal opposition to the policy, Haslam has said he will exercise his first veto since taking office on the legislation because of his belief that government should not mandate the policies of a private institution.
Through a spokesperson, Fleischmann declined to comment on the governor's decision.
"The letter did nothing more than express concern," said Alek Vey, press secretary for the congressman. "Rep. Fleischmann has not proposed any federal involvement in this issue; he simply wanted to highlight his opposition to Vanderbilt's policy."
As recently as Monday, Vanderbilt officials indicated they would not back down from the new policy, despite 14 of the university's 30 Christian groups making plans to leave campus rather than comply. In a Fox News report, the administration said it was committed to "maintaining a policy of nondiscrimination."
"Our policy does not target specific student groups," university officials said. "Student groups that wish to practice their faith are welcome at Vanderbilt, and we are pleased that 27 religious student groups of diverse faiths have indicated they will comply with our nondiscrimination policy and be registered for next academic year.”