October 2, 2011

Chancellor Nicholas S. Zeppos
Vanderbilt University
Kirkland Hall
Nashville, TN 37235

Dear Chancellor Zeppos:

We Vanderbilt alumni, students and friends learned recently the University placed five longtime VU religious extracurricular groups on "provisional status," jeopardizing their continued role on campus, because you take issue with these groups requiring their leaders to share the groups' core religious beliefs. You are also trying to force other groups, and campus ministries, into adopting your moral viewpoints, contrary to thousands of years of Judeo-Christian teaching.

Associate Dean Patricia Helland confirmed to InsideVandy.com on September 19, 2011, the University initially told several religious organizations to modify their constitutions. Now the University has ostensibly backed away from attempting to order these religious groups to rewrite their charters, because the groups told Dean Helland they can't change their beliefs just to suit whatever agenda the University is pursuing.

The University denies it has changed its "nondiscrimination policy," but research shows your administration is making misleading statements. The University changed the non-discrimination approach of December 2010, to remove the former policy of permitting freedom of religious association. This policy change is a direct assault on the First Amendment rights of association and religious expression of Vanderbilt students, as you well know as a law professor. Your fellow law professor, General Counsel David Williams, and Dean Mark Bandas, are now trying to bully various student religious groups, by demanding these groups allow homosexuals to head their organizations, in Star Chamber style inquisitions.

Vanderbilt reworked the section of the VU student handbook about Equal Opportunity as they removed language which protected religious groups from discriminatory readings of the non-discrimination clause. You can view online at http://www.vanderbilt.edu/student_handbook/student-handbook-archives/2010-2011-archives. Compare the 12.08.10 version with the 3.29.11 version. After clicking the Handbook link, click on Universities Policies and Regulations and scroll down to Equal Opportunity.

Now we understand most of the University chaplains are telling you and your subordinates that they will have to withdraw their ministries from campus, because your proclaimed policy will force them to abandon the tenets of their religious beliefs.

Despite this warning of ministries leaving the campus, your subordinates General Counsel David Williams, and Deans Mark Bandas and Richard McCarty, are telling the chaplains and the parachurch groups that you have no intention of changing this pernicious policy, which tramples upon student First Amendment rights of association, and which violates the spirit of the religious exercise clause of the First Amendment.

Your unwillingness to be transparent on these religious matters is similar to what arose at the College of William and Mary recently. In October 2006, W and M president Gene Nichol quietly ordered the cross removed from the Wren Building Chapel's altar area (the building named after English architect Sir Christopher Wren). William and Mary alumni, students and faculty only learned why it was removed from the oldest continuous American academic building still in use when someone leaked an e-mail stating Nichol wanted the absurdity of making "Wren Chapel less of a faith specific space."

Here, you appear to want to deny approval to campus religious groups, and to drive chaplaincies from campus if they do not succumb to intimidation, to make the University "less of a faith specific campus," because you find these groups to be offensive in requiring their leaders to hold beliefs established by the groups.

In no way do the stated, transparent beliefs of these organizations you threaten inhibit people on campus from freely exercising their various religious beliefs, whether the beliefs be those of Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, agnosticism, atheism, hedonism, indifference or your newly protected religion of Wiccan.

These beliefs of the religious groups do not attempt to establish any sort of on-campus religious approach for Vanderbilt, although your attempts to jeopardize their standing, and to change their charters, indicate you want to establish what those beliefs should be, contradicting American religious traditions as to establishment of religion.

Your actions against these religious groups have created strife within the University community, particularly because you authorized discrimination against religious groups without formal Board approval, although you claim you kept the Board informed.

Your refusal to be open in discussing these matters indicates you prefer to act in the shadows, as did President Nichol at William and Mary back in late 2006. As you probably know, several thousand William and Mary alumni reacted strongly against Nichol's policy of removing the Wren Chapel cross by withholding donations, signing petitions opposing his policy, and Nichol resigned in February 2008.

We undersigned alumni and supporters hereby request you certify all campus religious organizations for immediate good standing, and remove this potential for strife with prompt remedial action. We also request you be more open about changing the University's non-discrimination policy, as such lack of transparency is unbecoming to our great University. If you do not make these changes, it will be time for us to withhold financial and other support from the University until further notice.

Sincerely yours,