Bill to Thwart ‘All Comers’ Policies Moves Forward

Religious student organizations in Tennessee would be free to require that their leaders, or members, hold certain beliefs under legislation passed unanimously by the Senate Education Committee.

The bill, SB3597 brought by Sen. Mae Beavers, R-Mt. Juliet, comes in response to a controversial Vanderbilt University nondiscrimination policy. The “all comers” rule mandates that groups must allow anyone to join and that all members be eligible for leadership roles.

As amended by the committee, Beavers’ bill would prohibit the state’s Board of Regents or any school in the University of Tennessee system from implementing such a policy.

Another amendment, proposed by Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Collierville, would have applied the bill to any school participating in the lottery scholarship program, including private institutions, and punished nonconforming institutions by making them ineligible for those funds. The proposal drew strong opposition from outgoing Chattanooga Democrat Sen. Andy Berke, who said it would prevent him from supporting the bill. Eventually, Kelsey withdrew the amendment.

Beavers’ bill now heads to the Senate floor. The House version, sponsored by Rep. Mark Pody, R-Lebanon, is on the House Education Committee’s calendar next week.