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Aug 07, 2013 10:21 AM EDT

Troy University Faith-Based Dorms Under Fire for Religious Discrimination

The Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) believe Troy University is in violation of the First Amendment and fair housing laws with the opening of faith-based dorms, the Birmingham News reported.

The dorms, called the Newman Center, are set to open on Aug. 9, but the FFRF, a religious preference watchdog, sent a letter to Troy chancellor Jack Hawkins Jr. on the first of the month. Andrew Seidel, FFRF staff attorney, requested a written response to the legal issues brought up in the letter.

"Students who wish to live in the Newman Center are required to 'be respectful of diversity,' but the facility itself is not respectful of diversity," Seidel wrote. "Its sole purpose is to create a space for (the) devoutly religious, thereby excluding the nonreligious students who are not devout enough."

In a news release on the school's website, officials described the "faith-based residence hall" as a place that would encourage a spiritual dialogue, but would be non-denominational.

"Students who want to engage in dialogue about spirituality may apply for residence in this non-denominational facility, and students from all walks of faith, as well as those who have not professed a faith, are welcome," the release said.

Seidel said this was an example of unfair religious preference under the Alabama Fair Housing Act, the First Amendment and state constitutional provisions.

"This amounts to Troy University making a determination of how religious a person is, and then discriminating among students based on that determination," he wrote. "It is unconstitutional for government entities to make such a determination."

A spokesman at Troy said the university received the letter and were reviewing it. The school decided to build the dorms after nearly three-quarters of the student body indicated religion was important to them, Hawkins said previously.

"Our mission is certainly to help students earn a degree," John Schmidt, senior vice chancellor for advancement and external relations, said last week. "But we also believe that it is equally important to assist students in building a value-based life."

Seidel told the Birmingham News his recommended action for Troy would be to turn the dorm into a regular residence hall. He did not say if the FFRF would pursue legal action if the school ignored the letter's warnings.

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