Monday, October 20, 2014

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University of Dayton Rejects Atheist Group's Application for Official Recognition

The University of Dayton has rejected the Society of Free Thinkers’ (SOFT) application for official recognition as a student organization.

In a letter from Amy D. Lopez-Matthews, executive director of student life, to Branden King, a graduate student studying biology and the leader of the group, she explained the decision.

“By granting recognition to student organizations, we allow them to use the University of Dayton’s name, and we require that their activities be in alignment with the values of the institution,” wrote Lopez-Matthews. “We are a faith-based university with a mission of fostering formation in faith and respecting the dialogue between faith and reason. The University reserves the right not to endorse organizations that are contrary to our Catholic, Marianist principles.”

It is the third time in two years that the group’s application has been denied. The group, which has about 15 members, was first denied recognition as an official organization in August 2011. After the group’s second attempt failed, its members spent time revising its constitution in hopes of gaining recognition.

The group’s constitution indicates that the purposes of the organization are, among others, to: “provide community for atheists, agnostics, humanists, skeptics, naturalists and other freethinkers on a Catholic campus, reduce the stigma associated with a lack of faith and foster acceptance of freethinkers, and foster skeptical inquiry.”

Responding to the committee’s decision, King described the committee – composed of the University’s provost, director of campus ministry, and rector as “bigots.”

“The concern we have is that SOFT has denied the faith side of the discussion, not allowing that to be part of the discussion,” said Rev. Jim Fitz, S.M., university rector and vice president for mission.

The University of Dayton is not alone in its decision. The University of Notre Dame and Duquesne University have also turned down applications from secular groups for official recognition.

Senior Alex Hunton, writing in the Flyer News, the University’s student newspaper, applauded the decision.

“For once, a Catholic university is willing to stand up for its…Catholic identity, an identity that embraces both faith and reason,” wrote Hunton. “It simply says that the University of Dayton will not endorse an organization that runs counter to the university’s mission of faith.”

Junior biology major Matthew Danese agreed.

"The core values that led to the creation of SOFT are contradictory to the core values that the University of Dayton has: a commitment to preaching, educating and instilling Catholic values in its students," wrote Danese. "The University of Dayton is correct in rejecting the Society of Freethinker’s request for official recognition."

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