Troy University in Alabama is breaking new ground in discrimination, building a dorm for Christians only, presumably to keep them away from all those dirty heathens on campus. And the euphemisms in defense of the idea are flying through the air like confetti.
University officials say the 376-bed facility is the result of national and internal survey data that showed faith was significantly more important to Troy students than students at other public universities.
“Our mission is certainly to help students earn a degree,” said John Schmidt, senior vice chancellor for advancement and external relations.
“But we also believe that it is equally important to assist students in building a value-based life.”
The new facility gives preference to students who maintain an active spiritual lifestyle and are actively engaged in a campus faith-based organization…
The new housing facility is non-denominational, requiring residents to “be respectful of diversity,” but it will feature a 2,300-square-foot Newman Center leased and operated by the Catholic Archdiocese of Mobile.
Newman Centers are Catholic ministries on non-Catholic universities. Troy’s will include a common area for meetings, a facility for a priest and a chapel.
“The whole idea behind the Newman Center is to help student live their faith, facilitate community service and build and foster interfaith discussions,” Schmidt said.
The residence facility will also host three Catholic and three Baptist resident advisers.
The university, which is public, believes it can get around the First Amendment problem because the facility was built with private money. I’m not so sure that’s true. It is apparently still an official university facility and the university is making the housing assignments, which means they are actively engaging in segregation and discrimination on the basis of religion, something federal law forbids. For that matter, housing discrimination is illegal even if the building is entirely privately owned and operated. FFRF agrees:
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.
I don’t think this is going to fly.