Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam Vetoes College Discrimination Policy Bill

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Republican Gov. Bill Haslam Wednesday vetoed a measure that tried to force Vanderbilt University to exempt student religious groups from its nondiscrimination policy. It was his first veto since taking office in 2010.

The university’s so-called “all-comers” policy requires student groups at the school to allow any interested students to join and run for office. Some religious groups have waged a high-profile battle to overturn it.

Haslam said he disagrees with Vanderbilt’s policy, but it’s “inappropriate for government to mandate the policies of a private institution.”

The bill which passed the Senate 19-12 and was approved in the House 61-22 was sponsored by Rep. Mark Pody of Lebanon and Sen. Mae Beavers of Mt. Juliet, both Republicans.

It originally targeted public colleges and universities, but was amended to add Vanderbilt.

“The original version … only applied to public education institutions, and I believe it is appropriate for state government to be involved in policies of public colleges and universities,” Haslam said.

Christian student leaders have been vocal in opposition, saying their groups shouldn’t be forced to admit members, and possibly leaders, who do not share their beliefs.

Under the proposal, “a religious student organization may determine that the organization’s religious mission requires that only persons professing the faith of the group … qualify to serve as members or leaders.

“No state higher education institution may deny recognition or any privilege or benefit to a student organization or group that exercises such rights,” according to the proposal.

Democratic leaders had urged the governor to veto the measure, saying lawmakers shouldn’t be dictating policy to private institutions.

“It was the biggest government intrusion of a private business or institution that I can ever remember,” Democratic House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh of Ripley said earlier Wednesday.