Under Attack by Christian Right, Vandy Fights to Keep Police Force



Incredulous Vanderbilt officials were forced to come to the legislature today to argue against a bill yanking the university police’s authority to make arrests. This brilliant proposal comes from the Christian Right, which wants to punish Vanderbilt for its all-comers policy.

Evangelicals led by the Tennessee Family Action Council’s David Fowler say Vanderbilt’s policy is an affront to our freedoms because it would force conservative Christian clubs to accept gay people as members if any should ever wish to join for reasons not easy to imagine. That's right, Vanderbilt's nondiscrimination policy actually discriminates against conservative Christians. So the state should sanction Vanderbilt by essentially abolishing its police force. We're not making this up.

At a press conference, Vanderbilt Police Chief August Washington couldn’t seem to stop saying the word “unbelievable.” Welcome to the legislature, chief.

“What I’m interested in is public safety. I find it unbelievable,” he said. “I just find it unbelievable during this time when we talk about public safety and the importance of it and the number of campus-type shootings … we’re talking about heightening safety and security so we can be comfortable in our communities, so I have to tell you I do find it unbelievable that we would be considering this.”

Corey Slovis, chairman of the university’s department of emergency medicine, pointed out Vanderbilt hospital is the only trauma center in a 150-mile radius. He said the school’s police are needed to lock down the emergency room when shooting victims arrive for treatment.

“Whether it’s individual against individual or a gang member who is assaulted by a rival gang, Vanderbilt is off limits because it’s well protected,” Slovia said. “If we do not have immediate armed response to secure our ED, to lock it down, exclusive of everything else the police force does on the campus, we cannot function as we do.”

At a dueling press conference next door, the bill’s proponents made their case. The bill, which comes up in committee tomorrow, is sponsored by Sen. Mae Beavers and Rep. Mark Pody. Their legislation to outlaw Vanderbilt’s all-comers policy made it through the legislature last year, you’ll recall, but Gov. Bill Haslam vetoed it in a surprising show of backbone.

Right-wing Vanderbilt professor Carol Swain spoke in favor of this year’s bill: “This university is operating in a way that’s counter to everything that many of us have believed about America and about our freedoms, and I think they have to be held accountable. We cannot have situation in this state where there’s an institution that’s a bully that gets away with whatever it wants to get away with.”


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