Mirror of Justice

A blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory.
Affiliated with the Program on Church, State & Society at Notre Dame Law School.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Troy (State) University Dorm and Newman Center

In the vein of "the moral state of campus culture" ... Troy University, a state institution in Alabama, announces:

Construction of a new 376-bed residence hall at Troy University is under way, adding much-needed student housing, with a values-oriented twist.

In collaboration with St. Martin of Tours Catholic Church in Troy and the Archdiocese of Mobile, the residence hall will feature a Newman Center, a Catholic ministry center found on secular university campuses throughout the world and on more than 270 campuses in the United States. . . .

While housing in the residence hall will be open to all University students, Catholic students, as well as students of faith, may take part in Newman Center activities and attend events in a 2,300 square-foot chapel that will be the centerpiece of the development.

I'm sympathetic to the idea of creating such a space as a concrete (!) instantiation of faith-based values as an option for students.  I hope everyone concerned is taking the necessary steps to structure the arrangement to avoid any serious Establishment Clause challenges.  The university's news release says: "Troy University Foundation is building the facility, with financing provided by Troy Bank and Trust. Once constructed, trustees approved a measure that allows the University to lease the facility from the Foundation, a private entity, for its management and maintenance."  I can't tell for sure from the release whether (1) the chapel is a Catholic chapel, or the sort of general chapel found at many public universities, and (2) to what extent the "management and maintenance" by the university (I think the release says it's by the university) extends to the Newman Center and/or the chapel.


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I note from your quotation of the University announcement that "Catholic students, as well as students of faith, may take part in Newman Center activities." Do you suppose this means that students of no faith are excluded at the door? Are students asked whether they are students of faith before they are admitted?

Assuming that this is not the case, the wording of the announcement is deeply unfortunate.

Posted by: Ellen Wertheimer | Aug 23, 2012 2:00:35 PM

Ellen, I wondered about that too. I doubt that the Newman Center actually sets restrictions on who can attend events; I assume they welcome people widely, for evangelistic and other reasons. I would support their discretion to set limits based on shared belief if they are a freestanding group, but it's more problematic if the center has a prominent place in a dorm. (To be clear, I'd still support their ability to set belief-based criteria for leaders.) I agree that the language is unfortunate.

Posted by: Tom Berg | Aug 23, 2012 2:40:52 PM

Newman Centers (I believe) are owned and operated separately from the state schools with which they are affiliated.

Many of the larger Newman Centers offer rather comprehensive services. So, there will be a chapel, a student center, and a residence hall which are all part of the Newman Center. Sometimes the Newman Center will even pay for and offer theology and philosophy courses that the students can get university credit for taking.

So, the residence hall is not part of the University, though the Newman Center may arrange with the university to have its housing options listed as "university affiliated" housing.

The idea is that it provides a Catholic alternative to the normal dorm culture on college campuses.

I would doubt very much that Newman Centers screen students at the door. Part of most campus ministries' strategies is to get as many students possible in the door.

Posted by: Catholic Law Student | Aug 24, 2012 9:55:24 AM

I agree with Ellen Wertheimer's concerns. It's another unfortunate example of the marginalization of atheists and agnostics at many levels of American life.

Posted by: Andrew MacKie-Mason | Aug 26, 2012 9:47:29 AM