Faith-based housing under fire

Published 11:00 pm Monday, August 5, 2013

A faith-based housing facility for Troy University students has come under fire by a group in Wisconsin.

The Freedom from Religion Foundation sent a letter to university Chancellor Dr. Jack Hawkins on Thursday, citing a “constitutional concern” over a new 376-bed dormitory and Newman Center.

Senior Vice Chancellor for Advancement and External Relations at Troy University, Dr. John Schmidt, told The Messenger in December 2012 that preference would be given to students who expressed they wanted a faith-based living style.

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FRF believes if the university grants preference to religious students with regard to who gets to live in the new dormitory, the preference would violate the Alabama Fair Housing Law and corresponding provisions of the Fair Housing Act, the letter to Hawkins said.

The letter cited Alabama Code 24-8-1, which states it is illegal to “discriminate against any person in the terms, conditions, or privileges of sale or rental of a dwelling, or in the provision of services or facilities in connection with it, because of race, color, religion, familial status, or national origin.”

University Relations Director Andy Ellis said in a statement Monday, “The letter received from the Freedom From Religion Foundation is currently under review by University Administration.”

The housing section of the school’s website notes that students applying to live in the new dormitory must maintain a 2.5 minimum grade point average; be respectful of diversity; refrain from the use of alcohol or illegal drugs in the facility; maintain the standards of the “Trojan Way;” be engaged in some type of community service at least semi-annually; and “preference will be given to students who maintain an active spiritual lifestyle and maintain an active engagement in a campus faith-based organization.”

The Newman Center, a Catholic ministry found on secular campuses throughout the world and on more than 270 campuses in the United States, will be located inside the residence hall. The Archdiocese of Mobile leased the 2,300 square feet of space in the dormitory for faith-based activities and a priest will have an office there, but the co-ed residence hall is non-denominational, according to a letter addressed to “members of the Troy family” on the school’s website.

“Students who want to engage in dialogue about spirituality may apply for residence in this non-denominational facility, and students from all walks of faith, as well as those who have not professed a faith, are welcome,” the letter said.

FRF also takes issue with the Newman Center, itself, claiming that because the center is “‘an institution’ for which ‘a substantial portion of its functions are subsumed by [its] religious mission’ and therefore cannot be built, owned operated, endorsed, or maintained by Troy University.”

The letter to Hawkins was penned by FRF’s staff attorney and requests that the university address “constitutional concerns” in writing to the group.

Construction began on the residence hall in July 2012 and was estimated to cost about $11.8 million. The first students to live in the dormitory will move in in about two weeks and the building will be dedicated on Aug. 18 by Archbishop Thomas J. Rodi from the Archdiocese of Mobile.