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.

  • Rain

    “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.

    I seem to recall a certain entire church that was founded by a person who denied a certain creator of the universe before the cock crowed three times. Gee I wonder which church that could be.

  • Rain

    “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.

    I seem to recall a certain entire church that was founded by a person who denied a certain creator of the universe before the cock crowed three times. Gee I wonder which church that could be.

  • Rain

    Mark 14:68: “But he denied, saying, I know not, neither understand I what thou sayest. And he went out into the porch; and the cock crew.”

    There you go. The whole Catholic church was founded by Peter the liar that denied his own maker before the cock crew.

  • http://www.youtube.com/user/GodVlogger?feature=mhee GodVlogger (on YouTube)

    When you know that your ideas cannot stand up to even casual critique by a handful of students getting together to chat about them, then you will resort to trying to shut down the discussion as a last ditch effort of self-preservation.

    But the incredible IRONY is to then say you are shutting down only the skeptical side of the discussion because you want all sides of the discussion to be represented! Wacky things religious leaders do!!

  • DisThoughts

    I’m amused that you answered your own rhetorical question.

  • Marella

    “I have no clue what “themes” a Catholic university has that allows for Muslim and gay groups but forbids freethought groups.” The point is that it is ok to be a sinner, or to be wrong about which god to worship. What isn’t ok is to suggest that people think for themselves. If you teach people to be rational then the whole premiss of religion breaks down. While people are still prepared to believe in nonsense there is always the chance that they will come back to the church they were raised in, but once they realise it’s all crap they’re gone for good.

  • Kenneth

    There’s no mystery to this. Catholicism cannot hold its own in a fair and open marketplace of ideas. It, like most organized religion, only thrives when it has been able to control the terms of the debate, control the governments of the host nation and maintain the population in ignorance and fear. If Fitz had ANY confidence in the power of his church’s ideas, he would welcome a freethinker’s group.

  • Jasper

    “…searching for truth, grounded in faithanti-reason and reason.”

  • Sven

    “First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, then you win.”
    – Mahatma Gandhi… Ironically

  • Thomas Farrell

    So they should all go to every single meeting of the campus christian group and comment on how each and every christian remark made is wrong. When they get kicked out, they file a complaint with the school that the christian group was abusive to them by “shutting down the secular side of the discussion, not allowing that to be part of the discussion” and demand that the christian group be shut down because it does precisely what the atheist group was accused of as grounds to not allow it. Then publish the results.

  • Bob Becker

    Seems to me the Dayton admin made the distinction it sees between, say, a campus Moslem group and an atheist group fairly clear: the former does embrace faith, the latter does not. And, Dayton being an entireky private institution, it’s free to officially embrace whatever student groups it wishes to, and to refuse to embrace wgatever groups it wushes to.

  • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

    Doubletalking, doublespeaking, doublethinking, double-dealing, double-crossing duplicity.

    I’m beginning to wonder how a secular-oriented student at Dayton who sees the administration so blithely oozing that goo can continue to have (ahem) faith that he or she is actually getting a quality education, or that after graduation he or she will benefit from Dayton’s reputation as a respectable institution. Is either assumption real or reliable?

    I usually cheer on secular students to keep fighting for their campus clubs to be recognized, but I wonder if sometimes it might be better to not just give up and shut up, but to transfer to a different college, and stop giving those cowardly hypocrites tens of thousands of dollars every semester.

    I know that is not easy, but instead of seeing it as the bastards are winning, maybe it is better seen as stopping a bad habit and replacing it with a better solution.

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/chidy/ chicago dyke

    altho i personally would never attend or work for an organization run by the RCC, kids are a slightly different story.

    there may be some atheists and freethinking students who had no other choice for college, or this is all they can afford or attend due to family reasons.

    the catholics are actually pretty good educators, when they’re not raping their students. it’s possible to get a very sound, science based education at a catholic school.

    the problem/lesson here is in hypocrisy, and hatred. the freethinking kids on this campus have just gotten an education in the most important lesson of atheism/doubt:

    we are more oppressed than even gays and muslims in this country. that is what they will be fighting for decades to come.

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/chidy/ chicago dyke

    Richard, that’s often harder than it sounds. i work in college admissions and i will tell you: kids don’t always have easy choices.

    there can be family pressure to stay at a favored school. or scholarship money attached to only one school making it possible for poor students to go. there can be distance and housing issues. and social ones; would you want to suddenly uproot yourself if the RCC suddenly took over your town and you were paying them taxes instead of the state? and transfer admissions is not always guaranteed; it’s like applying all over again, only this time with college grades as well as the HS ones. so if you had the typical college student’s “freshmen experimentation” period and um, didn’t study so much and got crappy grades, that can hurt your chances at admission elsewhere. there are also local issues; if you’re looking to get a job in some towns when you graduate, you’ve got to go to the locally defined “right” school.

    don’t blame the secular students. catholic education, when not including rape, is often very good. these kids deserve the right to one if that is their choice, along with freethinker’s rights. they should fight for it.

  • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

    You’re persuasive, c.d. Thank you.

  • http://twitter.com/gregpiper gregpiper

    It’s kind of the opposite but this reminds me of Azusa Pacific University (an evangelical school in LA) denying recognition to the campus conservatives who wanted to affiliate with the Young America’s Foundation, because YAF is a “divisive” group. The official who turned them down used to be the head of residence life at my alma mater. Schools would do much better to recognize all student groups – atheists, conservatives, whatever – as long as they’re not, say, a chapter of NAMBLA.

  • DaytonSOFT

    Hi Richard, I’m the founder of this organization, and it’s something I’ve been wrestling with more and more. As embarrassed as I am by the university’s actions, the school’s science departments have a pretty solid record. Historically, UD’s got one Nobel laureate in chemistry. More recently, the school has many ties to research that is conducted at Wright Patterson AFB, and some of the faculty and graduate students of the Biology department have some Nature, Science, and Cell publications.

    That being said, I’m actually somewhat surprised by the reaction, given the university’s recognition of some other student groups. I honestly thought we’d be recognized before I graduate.

    As for why I go there, it’s an easy decision for me, I’m getting paid to teach and study for a master’s degree. When I was an undergraduate, I would have really appreciated the support network that our organization provides. How do I feel about the undergrads in my group? I’m starting to lean toward what you’re suggesting, but as c.d. suggested, it isn’t as simple as you make it out to be. As much as I hate the administration’s decision, it’s my alma mater, and I want to be proud of it.