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Lauryn Seering

Lauryn Seering

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FFRF calls Troy University dorms illegal

The Freedom From Religion Foundation sent a letter on August 1 to the Chancellor of Troy University in Troy Al., explaining the illegal nature of faith-based dormitories on campus.

Troy University will open a 376-bed dormitory, the Newman Center, which includes a chapel and three Catholic and three Baptist resident advisers, The dorm will house religious students. Media reports that preference will go to Christian students with non-Christian only considered "if there [is] space available."

FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel writes that preferring Christians over other religions, and even preferring religious students over nonreligious students, violates both Alabama and Federal housing laws.

Seidel goes on to explain that even a preference over religious vs. nonreligious students is also unconstitutional: according to the Supreme Court, "the First Amendment 'requires the state to be neutral in its relations with groups of religious believers and non-believers.'”

Seidel also pointed out that the University cannot lawfully "make a determination of how religious a person is, and then discriminate among students based on that determination." Troy University is constitutionally prohibited from dictating which students are "religious enough" to deserve a room in the new dorm. The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment also prohibits a public institution from owning and operating a building with sectarian religious purposes.

In addition to the legal issues, FFRF pointed out that the dorm is a betrayal of the college experience and the University's principles:

College is the time for students expand their horizons beyond their comfort zones, to meet new people from different backgrounds, to collide with new ideas that challenge and stimulate. This is arguably the most valuable facet of a college education – so valuable that it is memorialized in the Troy University Creed: “I acknowledge that Openness promotes new concepts and ideas, I celebrate our differences Justly and respectfully.” [1] The University’s decision to establish the Newman Center as a religious dorm betrays this principle and undermines the lesson. Institutes of higher learning should not be seeking to create insular, monastic communities, just the opposite.

"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," Seidel elaborates. "Its sole purpose is to create a space for devoutly religious, thereby excluding the nonreligious and religious students who are not devout enough."

FFRF advises Troy University to open the Newman Center to all students regardless of religious belief and operate as any other dormitory would.

FFRF, a national state/church watchdog from Madison, Wis., has over 19,000 members and a local chapter, the Alabama Freethought Association.

[1] Troy University, Oracle: Student Handbook, 2011-2012, p. 2, available at‌why_troy/traditional/1112_oracle.pdf.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation has been watching the Wisconsin Legislature inch closer toward the most sweeping expansion of private school vouchers in the state's history. Gov. Scott Walker proposed the voucher expansion and lawmakers modified it in the 2013-15 budget.

Starting July 31, parents whose family income is 185 percent of the federal poverty level can sign up their children to receive vouchers for private schools straight out of the taxpayer's pocket.

Over 90 religious schools have applied to participate in the new scheme. Of these schools, only one is nominally secular (a Montessori school which has Catholic roots). According to the Department of Public Instruction, there are a total of 824 private schools in Wisconsin.

Of the schools seeking up to $6,442 per year per pupil, 66 schools are Catholic, 10 are Lutheran, eight are miscellaneous Christian schools, three are Jewish and two are Muslim.

In Madison, home of FFRF, only two schools applied: Lighthouse Christian began in 2004 with only 50 students. Lighthouse Christian is seeking 40 slots for voucher students. According to the Wisconsin State Journal, Lighthouse Christian Administrator Tia Sierra told state officials she expects many current students will sign up for the voucher.

In other words, while touted as a program to benefit indigent and disadvantaged children, the new voucher program is set up in a way to subsidize private religious education for many students whose parents have managed to pay tuition in the past.

“I’m trying to call everybody that I know that might be interested,” said Sierra. “We have to be one of the top 25 schools with applications to even make it. We’re really going to try.”

Westside Christian, a tiny school opened by St. Andrew Lutheran Church in 2001, also applied for funding. If it receives support, the school will expand by more than a third.

Chillingly and revealingly, Principal Hank Hobnecke told the State Journal: "We're not motivated by the bottom dollar at all. We're motivated by providing a quality education and sharing Christ with the community too."

Taxpayers must not be forced to subsidize religious education, and schools whose overt purpose is "sharing Christ." America's secular public education will be destroyed if citizens do not revolt now.

FFRF is a non-profit, educational organization. All dues and donations are deductible for income-tax purposes.

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