New Dorms at Troy University Scrutinized

By: AL.com
By: AL.com

TROY, Alabama -- Troy University's new faith-based dorms are under fire over a possible conflict with constitutional provisions guaranteeing the separation of church and state.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, a Wisconsin-based group dedicated to protecting the principle of church-and-state separation, said Tuesday it has received "several complaints" over the $11.8 million faith-based dormitories set to open Aug. 9.

"These are supposed to be public universities, where it doesn't matter what religion you are," said Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the group that maintains an active Alabama chapter.

"When you study religion, you're supposed to be doing so academically, not devotionally. You can go to church for devotion."

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The group will investigate the matter for a possible violation, Gaylor said, and its legal department is in the process of drafting a letter to the university.

The group's website says the history of Western civilization "shows us that most social and moral progress has been brought about by persons free from religion."

The public university's new dorms are intended for students of any religion who want to incorporate faith in their collegiate experience.

The dormitories give preference to students who maintain active spiritual lifestyles and are actively engaged in a campus faith-based organization.

Students who choose to live in the 376-bed facility are required to "be respectful of diversity," engage at least semi-annually in a community-service or community-learning project and maintain a minimum 2.5 grade point average.

Alcohol and illegal drugs are forbidden, as they are in all of the university's housing.

The faith-based dorms feature a 2,300-square-foot Newman Center or Catholic ministry leased by the Catholic archdiocese in Mobile. It also has a small chapel and an office for the local priest.

The five-acre property is leased from the university by Troy's foundation, a private, non-profit entity, which paid for the two buildings that comprise the housing facility, using funds from a local bank.

That avoids legal conflicts between religion and the public dollars that Troy uses for operational expenses, John Schmidt, senior vice chancellor for advancement and external relations said last week. Troy's foundational money is comprised of private donations, not tax dollars, he said.

But Gaylor said they want to investigate the lease agreements between the university, its foundation and the archdiocese to determine if the properties are leased a fair-market value.

Regardless, she notes that Alabama's has a strict constitutional provision guaranteeing the separation of church and state.

It reads as follows:

"That no religion shall be established by law; that no preference shall be given by law to any religious sect, society, denomination, or mode of worship; that no one shall be compelled by law to attend any place of worship; nor to pay any tithes, taxes, or other rate for building or repairing any place of worship, or for maintaining any minister or ministry; that no religious test shall be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under this state; and that the civil rights, privileges, and capacities of any citizen shall not be in any manner affected by his religious principles."

"Aside from the whole legal aspect, it's the message that it sends, the exclusionary message," Gaylor said. "This is just the opposite of what a public university is about, in my opinion. It's really wrong."

A spokesman for the university said it has not been contacted by the Freedom From Religion Foundation and cannot comment on a letter is has not received.

The university decided to build the dorms after polling showed between 70 and 75 percent of Troy's students ranked faith as important in their lives, Chancellor Jack Hawkins Jr. said last week.


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