Keep religion out of public universities
Written by Chris Weber|
October 21, 2013
Bibles and beer rarely mix, and Troy University’s newly opened Newman Center makes certain its residents won’t face the temptation. The Newman Center, built as part of a national network of Catholic student ministries, bans alcohol, mandates community service, and requires would-be residents to submit recommendations from ministers, school counselors or community leaders.
Hidden in southeast Alabama, Troy — a public university — couldn’t escape criticism from national media. The Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation claims the Newman Center is unconstitutional and violates both state and federal housing laws.
In a letter sent to Troy’s Chancellor Dr. Jack Hawkins, Jr., the Freedom From Religion Foundation’s staff attorney Andrew Seidel cited the Newman Center’s preference to Christian students as the basis for its unconstitutionality.
Troy University, however, argues the Newman Center caters to students and builds a more inclusive environment. The movement is afoot across the country; the University of Illinois, Florida Tech and Texas A&M University all operate faith-oriented dorms. The University of West Virginia has broken ground on a Presbyterian-centered dorm, according to the Associated Press.
If universities and institutions of higher education truly want to create all-inclusive and diverse campuses, no justification for religiously-oriented housing can exist. While Troy argues the Newman Center helps to include those religiously-affiliated, it discriminates against those without a religious leaning.
Newman Center residents must adhere to a set of rules: 2.50 grade point average, no alcohol or drugs and engagement in semi-annual community service. And the kicker: “must be respectful of diversity.”
Seidel argues that “students who wish to live in the Newman Center are required to ‘be respectful of diversity,’ but the facility itself is not respectful of diversity. Its sole purpose is to create a space for the devoutly religious, thereby excluding nonreligious and religious students who are not devout enough.”
If discrimination is the means by which inclusiveness is fostered, where is the line drawn? Can we segregate housing based on race? Can student clubs receive housing where residents are required to adhere to club laws?
Troy University, along with colleges across the country, has lost sight of openness in an effort to create the most inclusive campus environment possible. Rather than implement policies devoid of limitations and discrimination, institutions have adopted policies that segregate to the extreme.
Hyper-identification is the newest threat to diversity. Many people in a campus community, from administration to students, identify themselves by a set of groups. Look at the College of William and Mary, where one student is likely to be involved in multiple clubs, social organizations and attend all kinds of cultural celebrations.
It’s becoming impossible to be considered diverse without these organizations attached to a name. Oh, you’re not in a group that celebrates some kind of culture? You’re clearly close-minded — probably incapable of understanding diversity.
The Newman Center may be the largest move to accommodate this hyper-identification, but it won’t be the last. Troy has set a dangerous precedent — every social identifier now has grounds to build its own inclusive housing on college campuses.
The College is primed to become more similar to Troy. Language houses, albeit not strictly enforced, cater to language enthusiasts. With over 400 clubs and countless cultures represented, it won’t be long before one group at the College finds the motivation to apply for inclusive housing.
In the case of religious groups, public institutions of higher education have no right to allow such housing privileges. The age-old argument — separation of church and state — rears its head again. It’s simple: Religion does not belong in public institutions, no matter what institution. If it’s public, take the religion elsewhere.
As Troy battles with critics over the Newman Center, colleges and universities across the country face an epidemic of hyper-identification. Rather than accommodate every student with inclusive privileges, institutions need to create open policies without discrimination or segregation.
The College’s administration must recognize the trend started at Troy University, and ensure the campus remains free of granting special rights to particular student groups. Don’t allow hyper-identification to rule the College’s campus.
Email Chris Weber at [email protected]