Multicultural, international, exchange student and gender-specific dormitories have existed conventionally for years on college campuses, but optional housing for students of religious backgrounds is apparently unacceptable.
That’s the message the Freedom From Religion Foundation — a nonprofit, Wisconsin-based organization that advocates church-and-state separation and is a member of the Atheist Alliance International — has indirectly sent to Troy University, an Alabama public university with about 23,000 students, regarding their new faith-based dorms.
“This is kind of bad policy because you go to college to interact with new people you wouldn’t normally meet and forming insular communities prevents that,” FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel told Red Alert Politics.
The “Newman Center” dormitories will join 12 other on-campus housing options — including gender-specific dormitories and the “Honors Cottage,” an option for students in the University’s Honors Program — as a non-denominational faith-based residence hall available to students actively involved in campus faith-based organizations.
The 376-bed facility will host three Baptist and Catholic resident advisers and include a common area for students looking to study or host meetings, as well as space for a priest and small chapel. Student residents will be required to abide by the same rules as other on-campus dorms, like maintaining the standards of the “Trojan Way,” and refraining from the use of alcohol and illegal drugs while in the building.
“The whole idea behind the Newman Center is to help students live their faith, facilitate community service and build and foster interfaith discussions,” John Schmidt, Troy University’s senior vice chancellor for advancement and external relations, told a local Alabama news source.
Seidel sees the concept much differently, telling Red Alert those amenities will make it “so you [students] basically never have to leave the dorm for anything.”
According to Seidel, FFRF received complaints “from local individuals” — though he refused to comment on whether they were affiliated with the University — about the faith-based housing, thus prompting the FFRF’s investigation. Seidel said FFRF is still considering which legal routes to take, but that they’re “looking into [violations of] the Fairer Housing Act, public accommodation laws and federal laws funding religious buildings.”
The $11.8 million faith-based facility was made possible through Troy’s foundation, a private, nonprofit entity whose foundational funds consist of private donations, not tax dollars.
While searching for legal routes against the faith-based dorms, FFRF’s legal department will issue a letter to the University expressing their concerns. In the meantime, eager Troy students and their parents will prepare for the Aug. 9 move-in date.
“This is a college dorm,” said Kelsey Burgan, director of the faith-based residence halls. “This isn’t a convent or a monastery. This is a place where people will have parties and will celebrate life’s achievements.”