Freedom From Religion Foundation targets Troy University over dorm plans

TROY, AL (WSFA) - For the second time in one-week, a national civil liberties group has set its sights on Alabama. This time, it's Troy University getting an ear full from the Freedom From Religion Foundation.

The first was for a decision by the Alabama Public Service Commission's prayer before a meeting. [Read More.]

Now at issue is a new dorm at Troy built especially for religious students. University officials say it's open to students of all faiths, but FFRF says it's still against the law.

The organization complained in a letter to University Chancellor Jack Hawkins.

"We conducted in two large national surveys and we found in those surveys is that our students have a very high response to the importance of their religious life and spiritual life while they are students," said Troy University Senior Vice Chancellor John Dew.

Dew continued saying, "We thought we can help with that by having residents halls that will be for bringing people from different faiths. People of all faiths are welcome."

But FFRF says that doesn't matter. In a letter to Troy, staff attorney Andrew Seidel writes that preferring religious students over nonreligious students violates state and federal housing laws. He goes on to say, according to the U.S. Supreme Court, "The First Amendment requires the state to be neutral in its relations with groups of religious believers and non-believers."

Seidel also points 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 argues back saying the campus is very diverse and believes this is just another way to provide students a place to live comfortably.  "We don't feel that we are doing anything that infringes on anyone's rights or privileges," stated Dew.

The FFRF ends its letter saying, "...The best practice is for Troy University to open up the Newman Center to all students regardless of religious beliefs. The Newman Center should be a dorm like any other."

FFRF is requesting a written response regarding the steps Troy is taking to address their concerns. Troy officials say they're still reviewing the request.

Currently, it appears the school will move forward with the religious dorm. "We really don't have any concerns about this," said Dew.

The building, which also houses Catholic and Baptist student centers, opens in the Fall.

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