A painfully correct call

A painfully correct call

May 7th, 2012 in Opinion Free Press

First, the obvious: Vanderbilt University's "non-discrimination" policy is wrong -- to say nothing of absurd, counterproductive and unrealistic.

But it shouldn't be illegal.

Under the policy, student groups that are provided space on campus must let any interested students join and, if they wish, run for leadership positions. Failure to comply means the organization forfeits its space on campus and its Vanderbilt affiliation.

The ridiculousness of such rules is evident at a glance.

They potentially allow, say, a determined group of Marxist "community organizers" to infiltrate, take over and disband a small free-market-oriented organization of business students. Or they could let strident atheists subvert the goals and the very purpose of a Christian group on campus.

What Vanderbilt's policy does, in effect, is deny the freedom of association.

Ironically, Vanderbilt makes at least one huge exception to the policy: It lets fraternities and sororities discriminate on the basis of sex.

The appropriate response to which is: "Good." There is no rational basis on which to let men join and run sororities. But there is equally no rational basis on which to let nonbelievers commandeer the membership rolls and leadership positions in a religious organization.

That also defies reality by giving students a laughably misguided view of their "rights" as American citizens. Let an agnostic who graduates from Vanderbilt attempt to join a Baptist church and become an elder without first accepting Christ. He will learn rather quickly that his indignation about being "discriminated" against is not going to avail him anything so far as gaining a leadership position in the church is concerned.

All that said, however, we cannot really fault Gov. Bill Haslam for vetoing a bill that would bar or undo such policies at private Vanderbilt as well as at public colleges and universities in the state.

Legislation barring those policies at taxpayer-supported public colleges clearly would be appropriate. But as a private university, Vanderbilt has the right to set its own policies, however wrongheaded some of them may be.

"Although I disagree with Vanderbilt's policy, as someone who strongly believes in limited government, I think it is inappropriate for government to mandate the policies of a private institution," Haslam said in a statement.

He's right.

And in fact there is a parallel with the recent unsuccessful effort to pass legislation that would have kept companies from barring employees from storing guns in personal vehicles in company parking lots. Forbidding gun owners with appropriate permits to have guns in their cars while they are at work is neither wise nor necessary, because the overwhelming majority of such individuals have respect for the law and are not the type of people who are likely to use their guns for unjustified violence. And people who would misuse guns that way aren't apt to respect company rules on guns in cars.

Nevertheless, a business has the right to set policies that apply to its own property.

So the appropriate response by individuals who strongly disagree with the policies of a private school or business is to avoid attending or donating to that school, or patronizing or working for that business.

That lets free, individual choice sort out good policies from bad, without unconstitutionally dragging government into the picture and violating the rights of private institutions and companies.