(Photo: Kevin Glackmeyer)
Troy University, whose faith-based dorms have been the focus of an atheist group's complaints, is being criticized again after it was revealed that the site on which the dorms were built is being leased for $1 per year.
The lease agreement says the school will lease the nearly five acre site to the Troy University Foundation, a private, nonprofit fundraising arm of the college, for 25 years, AL.com reports. As part of the agreement the foundation had to construct the Newman Center-a 376-bed residence hall and 2,300-square foot "adoration chapel." The chapel area, which also includes an activity center and offices, is being used as a Catholic student ministry center and is being leased from the foundation by the Archdiocese of Mobile.
Andrew Seidel, a staff attorney for the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), wrote a letter to the university last month stating that establishing a dorm for Christians and other religious students is a violation of the First Amendment as well as state and federal fair housing laws.
Seidel told The Christian Post on Tuesday that he is still investigating the school, but he did say that there could potentially be some legal issues with the agreement.
"If Troy University's purpose in leasing it to Troy Foundation was to establish a religious dorm, that in and of itself violates the Constitution," he said. If that was the university's aim, he added, the school could also be illegally providing a financial benefit to religion for approving such a low lease price on public land.
But Nicholas Cervera, an attorney representing Troy University, told AL.com the university has used similar lease agreements to have dorms built in the past. The school's bond ratings are unaffected by the dorm's construction because it was built by the foundation, and when the lease term is up the school will retain ownership of both the land and the facility.
Cervera also said students are not required to practice a particular faith in order to live in the Newman Center dorms.
"An atheist has faith. That faith is that there is no supreme being," he told AL.com. "It's as much of a faith as Catholicism or Southern Baptist."
If students from all belief systems are now permitted in the dorms, Seidel said, something has changed. Initially the school was going to show preferential treatment to Christians, he says, then they changed it to students in general who could meet "a certain standard of religiousity."
If the school has made it so that there is no religious requirement, he says, they need to make that "abundantly clear" to their students and should not question students to see if they are religious enough to live there.
"So, if they've done all that, then that would basically be what we asked for in the beginning, and I'd be happy to stop annoying them with all of our constitutional and legal issues," he said.
The web page that lists the housing requirements for the facility previously referred to the Newman Center dorms as "faith based housing," though it doesn't any longer. It also formerly stated that "students who maintain an active spiritual lifestyle and maintain an active engagement in a campus faith based organization" will be given preference, though a university spokesperson told AL.com such a requirement never existed which is why the language was removed from the website.
FFRF is still awaiting an official response from Troy University concerning Seidel's letter.