A new faith-based dorm at Troy University in Alabama came under fire from the Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF) yesterday for allegedly violating fair housing laws and the principle of church-state separation. Once it reviews applicable statutes, FFRF says it will send the school a letter, usually a precursor to legal action.
But officials at the public university are defending the dorm, which opens to students this fall, saying it will be open to students of all faiths. The school already has honors student dorms, substance-free dorms, and international student dorms. The new dorm will be like the others, with preference given to students of faith, but the students are not required to have a religious affiliation.
Private donations funded the $11.8 million building, which the college said was “much-needed student housing, with a values-oriented twist.”
Students admitted into the dorm must first submit an application and provide a letter of recommendation proving their campus involvement. The school gives preference to students who have active spiritual lives and are involved in campus faith organizations. All students in the dorm must also “be respectful of diversity,” the campus website said, and must participate in at least two community service projects per year. Students must also maintain a 2.5 grade point average and refrain from bringing alcohol or illegal drugs into the building, a policy for all students and dorms on campus.
A 2,300-square-foot chapel will be the centerpiece of the new dorm and provide a space for faith-based groups and activities. Local St. Martin of Tours Catholic Church and the Archdiocese of Mobile collaborated with the school to include in the building a Newman Center, a catholic student organization also on 270 other secular U.S. campuses.
Andrew Seidel, an FFRF attorney, told Montgomery’s ABC affiliate WAKA that the dorms violate fair housing laws: “We know that university officials have expressed that the dorm will prefer Christian students or students who live a godly lifestyle, whatever the language is that they’ve used, over those who don’t, so that right there raises serious constitutional and discrimination concerns.”
But John Schmidt, Troy University vice chancellor, defended the dorms: “I think if anything it’s very inclusive. Here on campus, we traditionally house many groups. We just had the Church of Latter Day Saints on campus, we’ve had the Episcopal church, we’ve had, in terms of our student groups, we’ve had the celebration of Ramadan, so we think it’s going to be very inclusive.”