Securing Religious Organizations from the All-Comers Policy

Securing Religious Organizations from the All-Comers Policy

In a ruling last April, Vanderbilt University deferred recognition of the constitution of the Christian Legal Society, to take effect the following year.  This ruling, which backs the so-called “All-Comers Policy,” would force all Christian organizations on campus to refrain from selecting student leaders based on religious belief.  This feeling is not limited to Vanderbilt; Stanford has recently been toying with similar ideas.  The All-Comers Policy at Stanford would apply to all religious organizations and force them to stop choosing leaders based on religious belief.  This policy would take away the point of religious groups and prevent the freedom of religious expression on campus.

The creation of an “All-Comers Policy” at Stanford would undermine the entire goal of religious groups.  They were made for the sake of allowing people of various religions to practice their beliefs as a community in a safe and comfortable manner.  It is perfectly natural and reasonable, therefore, that religious organizations would choose to select their leaders based on their religious beliefs.  A group with a leader who follows a different set of beliefs would almost always be a cause of disunity, confusion, and discomfort among those setting aside the time to practice their faith in peace with their religious community here at Stanford.  Furthermore, such a leader in a given community could be a source of loss to the community, as people who are interested in potentially joining would likely be disillusioned and turned away.

The argument in support of the All-Comers Policy claims that selecting a leader based on religious belief is unjust religious discrimination of some sort.  Unfortunately, the policy itself would be the discriminatory agent.  It is not unjust by any means to select one person over another for a leadership role in a religious organization based solely on that person’s religious belief; this is what the leadership role is all about.  On the other hand, it would be highly discriminatory towards religious groups to force them to stop selecting based on religion.  The University promises a safe place for religious freedom and expression, and to enact the All-Comers Policy would violate this promise and discriminate against religious groups on campus.

It is necessary to select a religious leader based on religion, just as it is necessary for a rigorous academic institution like Stanford to select students based on academic achievement. Most religious organizations cannot provide the most comfortable setting for the practice of its faith, nor can they encourage the strongest spiritual growth of their communities, without a leader who is solid in the faith.  Exceptions may be out there, but they are not universal and certainly not common, as the All-Comers Policy would presume.

It is also worth noting that the Vanderbilt policy would apply to ordinary membership as well, allowing members to join religious organizations regardless of whether or not they believe in the particular religious faith.  This is not always a problem, especially when considering those who may be discerning conversion.  However, religious communities are strongest when they are built up with a strong community of believers.  Forcing them to let anyone become involved can only serve to weaken the faith communities on campus.  This would not be the safe place for religion that the University promises to provide.

In the end, it really is not the place of the University to mandate how religious organizations choose leaders or how they choose to practice their faith.  Stanford must simply keep its promise and provide a safe place where all religious communities can practice their faith in peace and comfort.

*Kenneth Capps ’13 is a History major, and Spirituality Chair of the Stanford Catholic Society. Please email him with questions and comments at *

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