Why Won’t the University of Dayton Recognize a Campus Atheist Group?

A week after officials at the University of Dayton (Ohio), a private Roman Catholic school, denied granting official recognition to an atheist group on campus, the university rector Rev. Jim Fitz has responded to their frustration… with a straw man argument:

Cover image on SOFT’s Facebook page

“The concern we have is that [the Society of Freethinkers] has denied the faith side of the discussion, not allowing that to be part of the discussion,” Fitz said.

According to Fitz, the university is built on the tenet of “searching for truth, grounded in faith and reason.”

That’s just not true. Like most atheist groups across the country, SOFT’s purpose was to look at faith with a critical eye instead of just accepting the words of a holy book or holy man. They had no intention of shutting down any argument opposing their own.

The school, on the other hand, has no problem doing just that.

Seriously, though, the argument doesn’t even make sense. Read the group’s Constitution — where in it do they “deny faith”? What does that even mean?!

To say that the atheist group should go unrecognized because they “deny faith” is just a made up reason that has nothing to do with the reality of the situation. (Apt for a Roman Catholic school, I suppose.)

There’s another reason Fitz’s comments make no sense: As I said before, the University of Dayton already recognizes the Muslim Student Assocation, Spectrum (a gay-straight alliance group), and Face AIDS (A group that supports condom distribution in Africa). They support groups whose perspectives go against what the Catholic faith teaches — just as they should.

So what’s up with that?

“I think as a Catholic university, we have not forced our Catholic faith on any faculty, staff or student,” Fitz said. “No one is ostracized for their belief. No one has ever been expelled from the university because they have expressed a skeptical or agnostic point of view.

“On the other hand, when you say this is a ‘University of Dayton group,’ it implies endorsement of the university’s administration on that opinion… I think everyone can understand that there are values on both sides here and reasonable people can disagree on what weight to give those values. At this point, we feel we cannot endorse a group that would go against one of our common themes of the university.”

I have no clue what “themes” a Catholic university has that allows for Muslim and gay groups but forbids freethought groups.

Fitz should just explain what sort of freethought group his campus would allow. I’d love to hear it.

What can they discuss and what’s forbidden? What’s crossing the line and what’s not? What part of the Constitution is so abhorrent to the school’s mission?

He won’t answer those questions, though, because he has no good answers.

At his school, you can be a bad Catholic or a religious non-Catholic and get the school’s support… but don’t you dare suggest that Catholicism might be wrong.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.


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