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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PBS defends decision to air pro-abortion documentary ‘After Tiller’

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By Dustin Siggins

Under pressure for showing the pro-abortion documentary "After Tiller" on Labor Day, PBS' "POV" affiliate has defended the decision in response to an inquiry from LifeSiteNews.

The producers of the film say their goal with the documentary, which tells the stories of four late-term abortion doctors after the killing of infamous late-term abortionist George Tiller, is to "change public perception of third-trimester abortion providers by building a movement dedicated to supporting their right to work with a special focus on maintaining their safety.” 

POV told LifeSiteNews, "We do believe that 'After Tiller' adds another dimension to an issue that is being debated widely." Asked if POV will show a pro-life documentary, the organization said that it "does not have any other films currently scheduled on this issue. POV received almost 1000 film submissions each year through our annual call for entries and we welcome the opportunity to consider films with a range of points of view."

When asked whether POV was concerned about alienating its viewership -- since PBS received millions in federal tax dollars in 2012 and half of Americans identify as pro-life -- POV said, "The filmmakers would like the film to add to the discussion around these issues. Abortion is already a legal procedure."

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"This is an issue that people feel passionately about and will have a passionate response to. We are hopeful that the majority of people can see it for what it is, another lens on a very difficult issue." 

In addition to the documentary, POV has written materials for community leaders and teachers to share. A cursory examination of the 29-page document, which is available publicly, appears to include links to outside sources that defend Roe v. Wade, an examination of the constitutional right to privacy, and "a good explanation of the link between abortion law and the right to privacy," among other information.

Likewise, seven clips recommended for student viewing -- grades 11 and beyond -- include scenes where couples choose abortion because the children are disabled. Another shows pro-life advocates outside a doctor's child's school, and a third is described as showing "why [one of the film's doctors] chose to offer abortion services and includes descriptions of what can happen when abortion is illegal or unavailable, including stories of women who injured themselves when they tried to terminate their own pregnancies and children who were abused because they were unwanted."

Another clip "includes footage of protesters, as well as news coverage of a hearing in the Nebraska State Legislature in which abortion opponents make reference to the idea that a fetus feels pain." The clip's description fails to note that it is a scientifically proven fact that unborn children can feel pain.

The documentary is set to air on PBS at 10 p.m. Eastern on Labor Day.

Kirsten Andersen contributed to this article.

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He defended ‘real’ marriage, and then was beheaded for it

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By Pete Baklinski

A Christian man was executed during the night by a high-profile ruler after making an uncompromising defense of real marriage.

The Christian, who was renowned for his holiness, had told the ruler in public that his relationship with his partner was “against the law” of God. The Christian’s words enraged the ruler’s partner who successfully plotted to have him permanently silenced.

John the Baptist was first imprisoned before he was beheaded. The Catholic Church honors him today, August 29, as a martyr and saint.

While John’s death happened a little less than 2,000 years ago, his heroic stance for real marriage is more pertinent today than ever before.

According to the Gospel of Mark, the ruler Herod had ‘married’ his brother’s wife Herodias. When John told Herod with complete frankness, “It is against the law for you to have your brother’s wife,” Herodias became “furious” with him to the point of wanting him killed for his intolerance, bullying, and hate-speech.

Herodias found her opportunity to silence John by having her daughter please Herod during a dance at a party. Herod offered the girl anything she wanted. The daughter turned to her mother for advice, and Herodias said to ask for John’s head on a platter.

Those who fight for real marriage today can learn three important lessons from John’s example.

  1. Those proudly living in ungodly and unnatural relationships — often referred to in today’s sociopolitical sphere as ‘marriage’ — will despise those who tell them what they are doing is wrong. Real marriage defenders must expect opposition to their message from the highest levels.
  2. Despite facing opposition, John was not afraid to defend God’s plan for marriage in the public square, even holding a secular ruler accountable to this plan. John, following the third book of the Hebrew Bible (Leviticus 20:21), held that a man marrying the wife of his brother was an act of “impurity” and therefore abhorrent to God. Real marriage defenders must boldly proclaim today that God is the author of marriage, an institution he created to be a life-long union between one man and one woman from which children arise and in which they are best nurtured. Marriage can be nothing more, nothing less.
  3. John did not compromise on the truth of marriage as revealed by God, even to the point of suffering imprisonment and death for his unpopular position. Real marriage defenders must never compromise on the truth of marriage, even if the government, corporate North America, and the entire secular education system says otherwise. They must learn to recognize the new “Herodias” of today who despises those raising a voice against her lifestyle. They must stand their ground no matter what may come, no matter what the cost.

John the Baptist was not intolerant or a bigot, he simply lived the word of God without compromise, speaking the word of truth when it was needed, knowing that God’s way is always the best way. Were John alive today, he would be at the forefront of the grassroots movement opposing the social and political agenda to remake marriage in the image of man.

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If he were alive today he might speak simple but eloquent words such as, “It is against God’s law for two men or two women to be together as a husband and wife in marriage. Marriage can only be between a man and a woman.” 

He would most likely be hated. He would be ridiculed. He would surely have the human rights tribunals throwing the book at him. But he would be speaking the truth and have God as his ally. 

The time may not be far off when those who defend real marriage, like John, will be presented with the choice of following Caesar or making the ultimate sacrifice. May God grant his faithful the grace to persevere in whatever might come. St. John the Baptist, pray for us!

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The Wunderlich family Mike Donnelly / Home School Legal Defence Association
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German homeschoolers regain custody of children, vow to stay and fight for freedom

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By Thaddeus Baklinski

One year to the day since a team of 20 social workers, police officers, and special agents stormed a homeschooling family’s residence near Darmstadt, Germany, and forcibly removed all four of the family’s children, aged 7 to 14, a state appeals court has returned custody of the children to their parents.

The reason given for the removal was that parents Dirk and Petra Wunderlich continued to homeschool their children in defiance of a German ban on home education.

The children were returned three weeks after being taken, following an international outcry spearheaded by the Home School Legal Defense Association.

However, a lower court imposed the condition on the parents that their children were required to attend state schools in order for them to be released, and took legal custody of the children in order to prevent the family from leaving the country.

In a decision that was still highly critical of the parents and of homeschooling, the appeals court decided that the action of the lower court in putting the children in the custody of the state was “disproportional” and ordered complete custody returned to the parents, according to a statement by the HSLDA.

The Wunderlichs, who began homeschooling again when the court signaled it would rule this way, said they were very pleased with the result, but noted that the court’s harsh words about homeschooling indicated that their battle was far from over.

“We have won custody and we are glad about that,” Dirk said.

“The court said that taking our children away was not proportionate—only because the authorities should apply very high fines and criminal prosecution instead. But this decision upholds the absurd idea that homeschooling is child endangerment and an abuse of parental authority.”

The Wunderlichs are now free to emigrate to another country where homeschooling is legal, if they choose, but they said they intend to remain in Germany and work for educational freedom.

“While we no longer fear that our children will be taken away as long as we are living in Hessen, it can still happen to other people in Germany,” Dirk said. “Now we fear crushing fines up to $75,000 and jail. This should not be tolerated in a civilized country.”

Petra Wunderlich said, "We could not do this without the help of HSLDA,” but cautioned that, “No family can fight the powerful German state—it is too much, too expensive."

"If it were not for HSLDA and their support, I am afraid our children would still be in state custody. We are so grateful and thank all homeschoolers who have helped us by helping HSLDA.”

HSLDA’s Director for Global Outreach, Michael Donnelly, said he welcomed the ruling but was concerned about the court’s troubling language.

“We welcome this ruling that overturns what was an outrageous abuse of judicial power,” he said.

“The lower court decision to take away legal custody of the children essentially imprisoned the Wunderlich family in Germany. But this decision does not go far enough. The court has only grudgingly given back custody and has further signaled to local authorities that they should still go after the Wunderlichs with criminal charges or fines.”

Donnelly pointed out that such behavior in a democratic country is problematic.

“Imprisonment and fines for homeschooling are outside the bounds of what free societies that respect fundamental human rights should tolerate,” he explained.

“Freedom and fundamental human rights norms demand respect for parental decision making in education. Germany’s state and national policies that permit banning home education must be changed.

"Such policies from a leading European democracy not only threaten the rights of tens of thousands of German families but establish a dangerous example that other countries may be tempted to follow,” Donnelly warned.

HSLDA Chairman Michael Farris said that acting on behalf of the Wunderlichs was an important stand for freedom.

“The Wunderlichs are a good and decent family whose basic human rights were violated and are still threatened,” Farris said.

“Their fight is our fight," Farris stressed, "and we will continue to support those who stand against German policy banning homeschooling that violates international legal norms. Free people cannot tolerate such oppression and we will do whatever we can to fight for families like the Wunderlichs both here in the United States and abroad. We must stand up to this kind of persecution where it occurs or we risk seeing own freedom weakened.”

Visit the HSLDA website dedicated to helping the Wunderlich family and other German homeschoolers here.

Contact the German embassy in the U.S. here.

Contact the German embassy in Canada here.

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