Should a private Catholic university block a secular club?
At the beginning of September, a group of students at the University of Dayton (UD) were denied approval for their organization to be registered as an official organization on the UD campus. The newly formed Society of Freethinkers (SOFT)was organized to discuss topics related to both religion and a secular philosophy, and would be open to religious and nonreligious students. No similar organization existed on campus with a focus on an atheist dialogue.
As part of the registration process, SOFT submitted the necessary paper work to Student Life and Kennedy Union, meeting the deadline for participation in the 2011-2012 school year. When Student Life determined that SOFT was a religious group, they were also required to seek the approval of Campus Ministry before they would be recognized. That’s where the fledgling organization met a roadblock.
After meeting with both Campus Ministry and Student Life, the organizers were informed that their request to register SOFT was being rejected. The director of Campus Ministry informed the organizers that the reason for the rejection of their application was because the group’s stated goals contradicted the values of the university and that their association with a national organization known as Secular Students Alliance (SSA) raised additional concerns.
In its efforts to organize, SOFT has been working with SSA’s mission is “to organize, unite, educate, and serve students and student communities that promote the ideals of scientific and critical inquiry, democracy, secularism, and human-based ethics,” according to its mission statement. UD believes that by giving SOFT recognition, it would allow SSA to use the UD name. How, they asked, could an institution that’s founded on faith, approve an organization that says faith doesn’t exist? SOFT has indicated the association with SSA is something they would consider dropping if it cleared the way for official recognition by the university.
UD is a private Catholic university. As such they have wide authority to control university life. That authority includes deciding which clubs can be officially recognized on campus. However, critics of the decision to reject the application from SOFT argue that preventing students from being exposed to alternative views, especially those that conflict with Catholic teaching, will restrict their ability to develop critical reasoning skills that they need once their university days are over. They argue that a university should be a place where alternate points of view can be freely examined.
In a letter to the Flyer News, Kenneth Rosenzwieg a Professor Emeritus in Accounting at UD disagreed, saying that, “… preventing students from being exposed to alternative streams of thought, even those that conflict with Catholic teaching, restricts their ability to develop the lifelong reasoning skills that they need.”
Rosenzwieg, a Jewish staff member, went on to say that over the years at UD, there have been Jewish and Islamic organizations authorized on campus. He asked, “Is the exchange of Jewish and Islamic ideas in the campus community somehow acceptable and consistent with Catholic teaching, while the exchange of ideas about secularism and free thinking is not? Is it really the role of a true university to censor some types of thought and allow others?”
The conversation between SOFT and UD regarding the registration of the group is ongoing.
Forum Question of the Week:
Should the University of Dayton allow the secular organization known as Society of Freethinkers official recognition on campus?