Gerard V. Bradley

An oasis in the madness: faith-based dorms at public universities

Gerard V. Bradley
By Gerard Bradley
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October 16, 2013 (Public Discourse) - If incongruity is the basis of humor, then the modern university is a pretty funny place.

College students are inundated these days with the Gospel of Service. Campus leaders great and small hector them: spend spring break in Appalachia; be a Big Brother or Big Sister to a poor kid in town; do an “urban plunge” in the Bowery (or someplace like the Bowery used to be).

Good point: today’s students are all too often self-centered, pampered, and take their affluence (that is, their parents’ money) for granted. But what do the colleges do the rest of the time? Tell these same students that they are the brightest ever, see to their every need, and immerse them in affluence—from the smorgasbord in the dining hall to the spa-like workout facilities. Except for having a roommate you might not like, life at the “U” is better than taking a cruise. The “U” can’t sink.

Dormitories are hives of behavior modification and thought policing, even as the adults on campus dance on the grave of in loco parentis and sing the psalm of academic freedom. “Orientation” speakers make sure all the incoming students get their minds right about “diversity” and “respecting difference.” Well, at least some differences, or maybe none: “straight,” “gay,” “queer,” “trans,” or “bi” are (all join the refrain now!) “fine by me.”

The mantra is pretty much the same across the board. Many students arrive at college with beliefs about God, marriage, family, and sexual morality that they hold as true. Because students hold varied and sometimes incompatible beliefs about these important matters, they arrive at school with real differences. Yet colleges do not respect these differences at all; they are treated instead as sources of intolerance and even violence.

The collegiate orthodoxy is that religion and these other moral beliefs are matters of private (read: subjective, unverifiable) opinion. They are not the kinds of things that could be either true or false. They are manifestations of experience, feelings, and even one’s peculiar genetic make-up. Properly understood, they make no more difference than that between a taste for Thai or Mexican food. And that is the Truth about “truth.”

The New York Times last month reported on an anomaly. This one is edifying and welcome: a Christian dorm at a public university! Troy University—Alabama’s third-largest public university—opened “a roomy 376-bed dormitory that caters to students who want a residential experience infused with religion.” The “Newman Center” was established by a private Catholic development company. It is modeled on the flourishing center of the same name at the University of Illinois. The same company recently opened another dorm at Texas A&M, as well as at the private (and non-religious) Florida Institute of Technology. More “Newman Halls” are planned.

It is a worthy undertaking, and long overdue. Troy’s new dorm is open to residents of all faiths. In fact, most residents are non-Catholic Christians. Even so, it promises to be a source of strength and a platform for maturity for those who choose to live there.

Its greatest value is not that it would insulate residents from the indoctrination to which they would be subjected in other dorms. That would indeed be a benefit, but a greater good is existential. Newman Hall residents can support each other in prayer and in faith, and live among folks whose goal for the weekend is more sublime than getting drunk and hooking up.

Residents would thus be spared the pagan culture of the “U’s” other dormitories. More important, they would be spared the temptation, not only to join the debauchery, but to confess adherence to the college creed: “although porn and jello-shots are not for me, that stuff is okay for those who are so inclined.” This is the collegiate faith: the “right” and “wrong” of such matters is in the eye of the beholder.

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It is no anomaly that the strict-separationist watchdogs are unhappy about Troy. It is no surprise either that President Annie Gaylor, of the aptly named Freedom From Religion Foundation, thinks it is “very insidious.” Veteran First Amendment sentinel Charles Haynes says that faith-based dorms are a “constitutional mistake.” He opines that a “university really can’t take sides in religion, especially in a way that gives certain benefits to people of faith.”

Haynes’ is the mistake. Universities maintain chapels, and they have religion departments. For decades they have cooperated fruitfully with churches and other religious groups to make services available on campus or near student living quarters. A public college that simply said “no” to “giving certain benefits to people of faith” would itself be making a “constitutional mistake.”

The most pertinent Supreme Court precedents establish that religion must be treated no worse than other comparable viewpoints and activities. So, any university that set up other “values” or “identity” dorms—“green” or Africana or international or LGBTQ-friendly—would almost certainly act unconstitutionally if it flatly refused a proposal for a “faith-based” dorm.

In any event, the Times’ report missed the two larger points. One is that, even if a public university demurred, nothing in the law would inhibit developers’ acquisition of a near-campus parcel for the next Newman Hall. The second: nothing in the law would prevent a private university—Princeton, Duke, Notre Dame, Wheaton, or BYU, for example—from erecting a faith-dorm. Many have.

America’s Catholic philanthropists, bishops, and parents should take special note of this important experiment. It is no secret that the great majority of our country’s 225 “Catholic” colleges and universities are little more than nominally so. The student population at many of these schools is predominantly non-Catholic.

Meanwhile, about 85 percent of the Catholics enrolled in higher education are enrolled in non-Catholic institutions. The project of helping America’s young Catholics achieve an adult faith, therefore, is very largely the project of catechizing these young people.

Reprinted with permission from Public Discourse

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Although it is widely believed that people with Down syndrome are doomed to a life of suffering, in one large survey 99% of respondents with Down syndrome described themselves as "happy." Shutterstock
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‘Sick and twisted’: Down’s advocates, pro-life leaders slam Richard Dawkins’ abortion remarks

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By Dustin Siggins

Advocates on behalf of individuals with Down syndrome, as well as pro-life leaders, are slamming famed atheist Richard Dawkins’ statements made on Twitter earlier today that parents have a moral responsibility to abort babies diagnosed in utero with Down’s.

During a shocking Twitter rant, Dawkins responded to questioners saying that it was "civilised" to abort Down Syndrome babies, and that it would be "immoral" to choose not to abort babies diagnosed with the condition.

He said that his goal is to "reduce suffering wherever you can," indicating that unborn children cannot suffer, and that unborn children don't "have human feelings."

In addition to being scientifically challenged - unborn children can feel both pain and emotions - Dawkins' comments drew criticism for his callousness towards children with disabilities.  

"A true civilization – a civilization of love – does not engage in such cold and ultimately suicidal calculus"

"It's sick and twisted for anyone to advocate for the killing of children with disabilities," Live Action President Lila Rose told LifeSiteNews. "Dawkins's ignorant comments serve only to further stigmatize people with Down syndrome.

"While many people with Down syndrome, their families, and advocacy groups are fighting discrimination on a daily basis, Dawkins calls for their murder before they are even born," she said. "Those with Down syndrome are human beings, with innate human dignity, and they, along with the whole human family, deserve our respect and protection."

Carol Boys, chief executive of the Down's Syndrome Association, told MailOnline that, contrary to Dawkins’ assertion, "People with Down’s syndrome can and do live full and rewarding lives, they also make a valuable contribution to our society."

A spokesperson for the UK disabilities charity Scope lamented that during the "difficult and confusing time" when parents find out they are expecting a child with disabilities, they often experience "negative attitudes."

"What parents really need at this time is sensitive and thorough advice and information," the spokesperson said.

Charlotte Lozier Institute president Chuck Donovan agreed with Rose’s assessment. "Advocates of abortion for those 'weaker' than others, or of less physical or intellectual dexterity, should remember that each of us is 'lesser' in some or most respects," he said.

According to Donovan, "we deliver a death sentence on all of humanity by such cruel logic."

"A true civilization – a civilization of love – does not engage in such cold and ultimately suicidal calculus" he said.

One family who has a child with Down syndrome said Dawkins was far from the mark when he suggested that aborting babies with Down syndrome is a good way to eliminate suffering.

Jan Lucas, whose son Kevin has Down syndrome, said that far from suffering, Kevin has brought enormous joy to the family, and "is so loving. He just has a million hugs."

She described how Kevin was asked to be an honorary deacon at the church they attend in New Jersey, "because he is so encouraging to everyone. At church, he asks people how their families are, says he'll pray for them, and follows up to let them know that he has been praying for them."

It's not just strangers for whom Kevin prays. "My husband and I were separated for a time, and Kevin kept asking people to pray for his dad," said Jan. "They didn't believe that Kevin's prayers would be answered. Kevin didn't lose hope, and asking people, and our marriage now is better than ever before. We attribute it to Kevin's prayers, and how he drew on the prayers of everyone."

"I don't know what we'd do without him," said Jan.

Speaking with LifeSiteNews, Kevin said that his favorite things to do are "spending time with my family, and keeping God in prayer." He said that he "always knows God," which helps him to "always keep praying for my friends."

"I love my church," said Kevin.

Although it is widely believed that people with Down syndrome are doomed to a life of suffering, in one large survey , 99% of respondents with Down syndrome described themselves as "happy." At the same time, 99% percent of parents said they loved their child with Down syndrome, and 97 percent said they were proud of them.

Only 4 percent of parents who responded said they regretted having their child.

Despite this, it is estimated that in many Western countries the abortion rate of children diagnosed in utero with Down syndrome is 90%, or even higher. The development of new and more accurate tests for the condition has raised concerns among Down syndrome advocates that that number could rise even higher. 

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President George Bush takes the ice bucket challenge in a video released this week.
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What’s wrong with the viral ‘ice bucket challenge’? A lot, say pro-life leaders

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By Dustin Siggins

Pro-life leaders in the U.S. are warning about ethical problems with the viral "Ice Bucket Challenge" that has raised over $15 million for research into Lou Gehrig’s Disease since late July, making its way to the top of American politics, and the entertainment and business worlds in the process.

In recent days, former president George W. Bush, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, TV hosts Oprah Winfrey and Jimmy Fallon, and Microsoft founder Bill Gates have all had ice-cold water dumped on their heads in support of the effort.

They have been joined by many thousands of everyday Americans eager to do their part to raise funds to find a cure for the fatal neurodegenerative disease.

However, pro-life leaders from Patheos blogger Father Michael Duffy to the American Life League (ALL) are all pointing out that the ALS Association, which is behind the wildly popular fundraising effort, funds and otherwise supports embryonic stem cell research.

Instead, they are urging that pro-life people who want to participate in the ice bucket challenge send their donations to other charities that don't have similar ethical issues.

Embryonic stem cell research requires the destruction of an unborn child. This is unlike adult and umbilical cord stem cell research, which are considered ethical.

A spokesperson from the ALS Association admitted to American Life League in an e-mail that while the organization "primarily funds adult stem cell research," they are "funding one study using embryonic stem cells (ESC)..."

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"It is noble to combat a deadly disease," Live Action president Lila Rose said in a statement provided to LifeSiteNews, but added that "it's such a shame that the ALS Association...chooses to support research that thrives from experimenting on and killing tiny, innocent human beings."

"Embryonic stem cell research, which requires the destruction of pre-born people, is inherently unethical and a violation of fundamental human rights, and even materialists must admit that promises of its benefits have failed to deliver," continued Rose. "There is no good reason to condone this practice; in fact, all it does is taint the ALS Association, whom I'd otherwise be happy to support."

In the email to American Life League, ALS Assocation Spokesperson Carrie Munk defended the organization, saying that the embryonic stem cell research is being funded by an outside donor, and "the stem cell line was established many years ago."

She added that "under very strict guidelines, The Association may fund embryonic stem cell research in the future," and that currently "donors may stipulate that their funds not be invested in this study or any stem cell project."

At least one Catholic archdiocese has spoken up about the problematic relationship between ALS Assocation and unethical research.

"We appreciate the compassion that has caused so many people to engage in the ice bucket challenge," said a spokesperson for the Archdiocese of Cincinnati. "But it's a well established moral principle that a good end is not enough. The means to that ends must be morally licit."

Both Fr. Duffy and the archdiocese have recommended money be sent to the John Paul II Medical Research Institute in Iowa City, Iowa. It is an organization that exclusively researches with adult stem cells. 

One D.C.-area Catholic, Robert Vega, wrote on Facebook that "in light of the absolute dignity of human life and necessity to defend it...I have taken down my Ice Bucket video, untagged myself from my nomination video, and encourage anyone to whom I may have spread the Challenge to do the same."

Embryonic stem cell research, which was a major controversy throughout the presidency of George W. Bush, has quietly, although decidedly, become less popular after many of the exalted promises of its proponents failed to materialize. As LifeSiteNews reported, in 2012 California and Maryland funded a fraction of the embryonic stem cell research projects that they did in 2007. Likewise, Maryland funded nearly twice as many stem cell research projects in 2012 as it had in the prior year -- but only one of the grants was done for an embryonic research project.

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Catholic couple fined $13,000 for refusing to host same-sex ‘wedding’ at their farm

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By Kirsten Anderson
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Robert and Cynthia Gifford

The New York State Division of Human Rights (DHR) has ruled that the Roman Catholic owners of an Albany-area farm violated the civil rights of a lesbian couple when they declined to host the couple’s same-sex “marriage” ceremony in 2012.

Robert and Cynthia Gifford, who own and operate Liberty Ridge Farm in Schaghticoke, were ordered by DHR Judge Migdalia Pares and Commissioner Helen Diane Foster to pay $10,000 in fines to the state and an additional $3,000 in damages to the lesbian couple, Jennie McCarthy and Melissa Erwin for “mental pain and suffering.” 

Additionally, the Giffords must provide sensitivity training to their staff, and prominently display a poster highlighting state anti-discrimination laws.

The Giffords’ attorney, Jim Trainor, told LifeSiteNews that the two-year-legal drama and resulting fines all stemmed from a single brief phone call in 2012 that caught his clients off guard.

“The entire interaction between the Complainants and the Giffords transpired during a two to three minute telephone conversation which, unknown to Mrs. Gifford, was being tape recorded,” Trainor said.

“After communicating the fact that they chose not to hold same-sex marriage ceremonies at the farm because to do so would violate the Giffords’ sincerely held beliefs (that God intended marriage to be between a man a woman only), Mrs. Gifford invited the couple to visit the farm to discuss handling their wedding reception, which the couple refused.” 

The Giffords draw a line, Trainor explained, between a ceremony that solemnizes a homosexual relationship and a reception that celebrates the union after the fact.  To participate in the former, they argue, would be a violation of their own religious beliefs, especially because marriage ceremonies on the farm typically take place in and around the couple’s home, where they live full-time and are raising their two children. 

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But the Giffords are willing to serve gay couples in other ways – for example, they allowed another lesbian couple to throw a birthday party for their adopted child on the farm.

Trainor said he believes the decision by DHR goes too far in that it seeks to regulate what the Giffords can or cannot do in their own private home, even though state law only requires “places of public accommodation” to adhere to anti-discrimination laws.

“They consider the farm their home,” Trainor said. “They live there, they work there, they raise their kids there.”

Trainor also said that the Judge and Commissioner should have taken into account the Supreme Court’s recent Hobby Lobby ruling, which came down weeks before the DHR notified the Giffords of their decision.

“We're disappointed that neither the Administrative Law Judge nor the Commissioner considered the Gifford's Constitutional (1st Amendment) rights, including the right not to be compelled to participate in a ‘marriage’ ceremony which violates their own religious beliefs,” Trainor said. 

Trainor said he and the Giffords are evaluating their options for further legal action.

The Giffords could simply ask the DHR to reconsider their decision, but Trainor said he doubts that approach would be successful. In order to formally appeal the ruling the couple would have to go to the New York State Supreme Court. 

But there is another option: The Giffords could file a fresh lawsuit in either state or federal court challenging the constitutionality of the DHR ruling.

While religious liberty has been a hot topic in federal court lately, Trainor said New York’s state constitution “actually offers a lot” of protection when it comes to religious freedom. “Many people view it as more expansive than the U.S. Constitution in terms of religious freedoms.”

However, Trainor emphasized that the Giffords have not yet decided which avenue, if any, they are planning to take in terms of pursuing further legal action.

In the meantime, the Giffords will continue hosting wedding ceremonies and receptions at the farm, Trainor said. However, they are considering hiring a dedicated employee to handle the ceremonies in order to avoid having to directly participate in any future same-sex “weddings.”

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