***Update***: A response from atheist group leader Branden King has been published in Flyer News, the school’s newspaper:
It is with a heavy heart that I write this letter, and it does hurt to know that our efforts amounted to nothing in the eyes of the University of Dayton. I’ve been at this school for seven years, and for the last two, I’ve been trying my best to make this campus a better place for its students, especially a minority group that is being suppressed by the administration.
I want to apologize to all the students, both secular and religious, who gave our club the most fascinating conversations on campus. I am sorry for my inability to do more. We only want to be treated equally, to be afforded the same resources as all the other student organizations, nothing more. It is a shame that their fear of us is causing them to make decisions that are inconsistent with their mission statement and the values they claim to espouse.
The University of Dayton is a private Roman Catholic school in Ohio. Like many religious institutions of higher learning, they seem to welcome students who hold a variety of beliefs, including ones that don’t always fall in line with Church teachings, which explains why the Muslim Student Assocation, Spectrum (a gay-straight alliance group), Face AIDS (A group that supports condom distribution in Africa), and Quidditch Club (witchcraft!) are all registered student organizations at the school.
Well over a year ago, I wrote about how an atheist student group was trying to form there, only to get denied by the school:
“Student Life said we were a religious group so we had to get approval from Campus Ministry before we would be recognized,” [student Nick] Haynes said.
Haynes and [Branden] King said they met with Amy Lopez-Matthews, director of Student Life and Kennedy Union, and Crystal Sullivan, director of Campus Ministry, to get approval for the group. They said this meeting took place approximately two weeks before fall classes started.
Sullivan and Lopez-Matthews both said to them that UD could not back their group, according to Haynes.
Lopez-Matthews said their reason was because the group would contradict UD’s values.
“I don’t know, as a religious, Catholic university, how we can promote this,” Lopez-Matthews said. “It’s in direct contrast to what we believe.”
It’s really a cop-out answer to say this group would contradict UD’s values. The atheist group — like so many others at religious campuses — would be there to raise tough questions, discuss faith, and provide a safe haven for students who may be doubting their religious beliefs. Those are the types of discussions all universities — including religious ones — should welcome with open arms.
But for the third time in two years, the atheist group has been rejected:
We are a faith-based university with a mission of fostering formation in faith and respecting the dialogue between faith and reason. The University reserves the right not to endorse organizations that are contrary to our Catholic, Marianist principles.
Yes, the school has the right to reject the group, but their decision makes no sense, especially when you consider the university’s own stated mission (PDF):
The University welcomes persons of all faiths and persuasions to participate in open and reflective dialogue concerning truth and the ultimate meaning of life.
… unless, apparently, you’re an atheist. In which case, you can fend for yourself.
So gay students can meet, and Muslims who don’t follow Catholic doctrine can meet, and the group that supports contraception can meet, but the people who want to question faith are rejected… which means they’re unable to get funding from the school, advertise on campus, or set up a table on campus grounds like other groups.
What appalling hypocrisy. What cowardice. Even for a Catholic institution, this is pretty low. There’s no good reason for them to stop the atheist group from being officially recognized. They’re just worried about the bad PR they’d get if donors found out they offered any level of support to a group of heathens.
They don’t seem to care about the bad PR they deserve to get when everyone finds out how they’re rejecting free inquiry and putting a kibosh on a group that looks beyond Church doctrine to find answers.