This school and its proposal have been in the news for a while, but have gotten the most publicity in an article in Thursday’s New York Times, “The Christian dorm at the public university.”
In short, Troy University at Troy, Alabama (of course), is a state (public) school that has opened a dormitory for Christian students, though it’s open to students of all faiths, as well as nonbelievers. (Those are as rare in Alabama as snowstorms.) Nevertheless, it’s still housing designed for students of a single religion. As the Times reports:
Citing reports from students who say they are hungry for more faith-based options on campus and national surveys that show a strong interest in spirituality among college freshman, officials at Troy, Alabama’s third-largest public university, this semester opened the Newman Center residence hall, a roomy 376-bed dormitory that caters to students who want a residential experience infused with religion.
Kosher dorms, Christian fraternity houses and specialized housing based on values have become part of modern college life. But the dorm on this campus of 7,000 students is among a new wave of religious-themed housing that constitutional scholars and others say is pushing the boundaries of how much a public university can back religion.
Officials said the dorm met a growing demand and did not conflict with the Constitution.
“It is not about proselytizing, but about bringing a values-based opportunity to this campus,” said Troy’s chancellor, Jack Hawkins Jr. “The parents are the most excited. I’ve had calls to get me to intervene to get their son or daughter in there.”
What it’s about is to promote a specific religion using public funds. There are no Jewish dorms; there are no Muslim dorms, though I suspect that there aren’t enough students of either faith to support such places. Annie Laurie Gaylor of the Freedom from Religion Foundation is quoted as saying, “This is too cozy. We are very concerned about this idea of religious-based dorms. This is very insidious.”
The dorm is partially funded by the Catholic-run Newman Student Housing Fund, which has already built similar dorms at two other public universities and plans more. Ask yourselves: why are they paying to do that?
Here’s more from the report. I’ve put in bold the particularly disingenuous parts:
Residents said the dorm provided a way for people of different faiths — or no faith at all — to mingle and learn more about each other’s beliefs.Some said they found support and guidance living among people who shared Bible-based values.
Those last two sentences are contradictory.
“We don’t want to offend people, but we don’t want to be offended,” said Stella Burak, 20. “We have to be tolerant of so many things, but nobody has to be tolerant of religion.”
At first I was puzzled by Burak’s statement, but then I realized that she means that there’s discrimination against Christians (cry me a river), and that the dorm is a place to escape criticism of her religious values. But isn’t exposure to such diverse ideas one of the purposes of college?
Like the school administrators who supported the dorm, students argue that the Newman hall is not, as it was originally marketed, a dorm designed for Christians on the campus of a public university.
“It is faith-based housing, but faith can be anything from atheism to Catholicism,” said Dom Godwin, a 19-year-old Catholic. Less than 3 percent of Alabama’s population is Catholic.
Here are the constitutional arguments against such housing, arguments with which I agree:
“If you set it up as a faith-based dorm and you expand it to include all faiths, you are still making a constitutional mistake,” said Charles C. Haynes, the director of the Religious Freedom Education Project at the Newseum and a senior scholar at the First Amendment Center in Washington. “Two constitutional wrongs don’t make a constitutional right.”
Providing dorms based on a set of values is one thing, he said, but providing housing so closely tied to religion is another.
“The reason we don’t hear about this happening at other public universities is that they know they can’t do it,” Dr. Haynes said. “A university really can’t take sides in religion, especially in a way that gives certain benefits to people of faith.”
When I started college, I lived in an “honors dorm” with 11 other students: 12 guys in six rooms. Our roommates were all chosen to be of the same faith, which became quite clear when I was put with the only other Jewish guy in the program. On either side of me were two rooms, each containing two Catholics. Two Protestants were at the end of the hall. The Christian Scientist posed a problem, but, making the best of a bad job, they put him with a Catholic.
That discrimination bothered me, though I didn’t know why. Now I know that I saw it as a misguided attempt to protect me by not exposing me to—horrors—a Christian. But I wound up rooming senior year with one of the Protestants from that dorm, although by then I was barely a Jew.
It seems to me that if one really wants to foster diversity, as so many campuses claim, you don’t try to house people of like faiths together. That simply protects them from the kind of diversity the college is trying to promote. After all, it’s exposure to diversity that is supposed to breed tolerance. Exposure to other coreligionists—Christians in this case—just breeds tribalism.