In what is likely a breach of the First Amendment, Troy University will be opening faith-based housing to students this fall. Originally planned only for Christians, the university later opened it to all "spiritual" people. However, this dormitory is a clear violation of the Establishment Clause and should be immediately converted to regular student housing.
Attempting to avoid any legal repercussions, the school leased five acres of land to Troy’s private foundation in order to jump-start this project. Nonetheless, in this case, the government is still supporting a sectarian religious operation. It is the university that is essentially operating the facility by determining who is eligible to live there. For example, students must maintain a 2.50 GPA and adhere to the university's code of conduct inside the dorms.
The most jarring part of the application is that it reads: “Preference will be given to students who maintain an active spiritual lifestyle.” This is a blatant privileging of spiritual students over non-religious students, which is explicitly forbidden by federal and state fair housing laws. Further, the university has no way to judge what an “active spiritual lifestyle” is. Will a gay Christian who attends church every week be allowed to live here? They are spiritual, but the university may not like his or her lifestyle. A government institution has no role in determining how spiritual or religious a person is as an eligibility requirement.
But this goes beyond legal issues too. One purpose of college is to open students’ minds to new concepts and classmates who have had different life experiences. A religious dormitory,even when it contains students who have a variety of religious backgrounds, is more likely to breed insular environments in which people are more likely to interact with those students who are similar to them.
Troy University should immediately convert these dorms to normal housing options or completely relegate their operation to a private organization. There is a place for faith-based dorms if students want them, like at Texas A&M or University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, but they must be left to private organizations to control. And for those students who want a truly immersive religious experience, there are a plethora of religious universities for them to attend if they find public universities to be too secular. Public universities, though, simply have no role in supporting a religious operation like this.