Troy University, a public university in Alabama, has just opened a new dorm that will accommodate students who are seeking a “faith-based collegiate experience”.
The new facility gives preference to students who maintain an active spiritual lifestyle and are actively engaged in a campus faith-based organization.
Residents are required to engage at least semi-annually in a community-service or service-learning project that is tied to a church, such as food or clothing drive.
The new housing facility is non-denominational, requiring residents to “be respectful of diversity,” but it will feature a 2,300-square-foot Newman Center leased and operated by the Catholic Archdiocese of Mobile.
Newman Centers are Catholic ministries on non-Catholic universities. Troy’s will include a common area for meetings, a facility for a priest and a chapel.
“The whole idea behind the Newman Center is to help student live their faith, facilitate community service and build and foster interfaith discussions,” Schmidt said.
The residence facility will also host three Catholic and three Baptist resident advisers.
The university seems to be hoping to avoid Establishment Clause violations by the way the dorms were funded.
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. Troy’s foundational money is comprised of private donations, not tax dollars.
I don’t think that will save it from legal challenge. The Lemon test (at least the entanglement prong) and the endorsement test both seem to be violated here. By going out of its way to create a faith-based dorm, however it is funded, the university is clearly signaling that it endorses religion over non-religion.