University of Dayton Denies Atheist Group September 3, 2011

University of Dayton Denies Atheist Group

The University of Dayton (in Ohio), a private Roman Catholic school, just denied registration to a potential Secular Student Alliance group because open discussion about religion apparently contradicts what they want students to learn on campus:

Nick Haynes and Branden King said they began planning their club, the Society of Free Thinkers, in April….

The group was designed for religious and nonreligious students to discuss topics related to both religion and a secular philosophy, Haynes said.

The group submitted the necessary paper work to Student Life and Kennedy Union before this year’s deadline, he said.

“Student Life said we were a religious group so we had to get approval from Campus Ministry before we would be recognized,” Haynes said.

Pause here for just a moment.

They were called a “religious group,” so the Ministry had to approve their existence?! I see two problems with that sentence.

But it shouldn’t have been a problem… there’s already a Muslim Student Association group on campus and surely their beliefs contradict Catholic ones. Why wouldn’t an atheist group be approved?

They didn’t answer that question. But they rejected the group anyway.

Haynes and King said they met with Amy Lopez-Matthews, director of Student Life and Kennedy Union, and Crystal Sullivan, director of Campus Ministry, to get approval for the group. They said this meeting took place approximately two weeks before fall classes started.

Sullivan and Lopez-Matthews both said to them that UD could not back their group, according to Haynes.

Lopez-Matthews said their reason was because the group would contradict UD’s values.

“I don’t know, as a religious, Catholic university, how we can promote this,” Lopez-Matthews said. “It’s in direct contrast to what we believe.”

(But Islam isn’t?)

What are these values that the atheist group would contradict? Here’s what I could find on the school’s website…

The University of Dayton is not a place where learning ends at the door to the classroom. Our courses spark curiosity — provide foundations — sharpen intellects — and inspire our faculty and students to dare to be exceptional.

I don’t see any contradiction.

Yes, UD is a Catholic university. But so is DePaul University in Chicago, and they embrace diversity. Their Secular Student Alliance affiliate is running strong.

UD said they’re opposed to the affiliation with the SSA. Because, I mean, just look at the SSA’s mission:

SSA’s mission is “to organize, unite, educate, and serve students and student communities that promote the ideals of scientific and critical inquiry, democracy, secularism, and human-based ethics”…

Scientific inquiry? Human-based ethics? Democracy?! Those things make Baby Ratzinger cry 🙁

“Automatically there were some questions about the viability of this group [SSA],” Lopez-Matthews said. “Giving SOFT [Society of Free Thinkers] recognition allows SSA to use the University of Dayton name. How can an institution that’s founded on faith OK an organization that says faith doesn’t exist?

Why don’t you ask California Lutheran University? Or Elmhurst College in Illinois? Or Luther College in Iowa? Or Southern Methodist University in Texas? They’re all founded by religious organizations and they all have SSA affiliates.

Actually, if SOFT affiliated with the SSA, we would simply put their group’s name and contact information on our master affiliate list and that’s about the extent of it. Meanwhile, SOFT would have access to grant money for speakers and material for tabling, and they would be part of a larger network of SSA students doing amazing things on their campuses.

Even institutions “founded on faith” ought to be comfortable with students who are questioning it and who want to explore another side of it. If there’s one place that shouldn’t demand that you agree with their beliefs in lockstep, it ought to be an institution of higher learning.

But the students said if SSA was the problem, they’d just forego the affiliation and run the group independently.

Would that make everything better?

We have yet to find out.

“We want first and foremost for SOFT to exist on campus,” Haynes said. “We’re flexible. … Having this organization exist is more important than our affiliation with SSA.”

Lopez-Matthews said Student Life supports dialogue of all religious views.

“We’re all about helping students in development of faith, whatever their beliefs may be,” she said. “If students are atheist, having a place on campus where they can gather or talk is a great thing.”

Haynes and King said they are currently waiting for their next meeting with administrators, and said they are trying to build support on campus. He said they also have prepared a letter to President Daniel Curran and other administrators explaining the organization’s goals.

“We’re not trying to come on campus with an agenda,” Haynes said. “There are stigmas attached to being atheist, and I want to expel those.”

“We’re all about helping students in development of faith, whatever their beliefs may be,” unless those beliefs challenge my beliefs, in which case screw you.

UD is a private school. They have every right to say no in this case, but they might as well be honest about it. Just say you don’t want anyone to challenge Catholic dogma. Or that you’re afraid the atheist group might become too popular. But don’t give students the run-around for idiotic reasons.

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Karen

    …No comment yet…I’m still digesting this one…

  • TheBlackCat

    “We’re all about helping students in development of faith, whatever their beliefs may be,” she said. “If students are atheist, having a place on campus where they can gather or talk is a great thing.”

    I’m sorry, that is a blatant lie.  They just flat-out said that they don’t want atheists gathering or talking.

  • Jccarter25

    “I don’t know, as a religious, Catholic university, how we can
    promote this,” Lopez-Matthews said. “It’s in direct contrast to what we

    In direct contrast to what? They don’t believe in thinking? Discussing? That’s incredibly hypocritical.

  • “How can an institution that’s founded on faith OK an organization that says faith doesn’t exist?”
    wait wut?
    Secularism is the denial of faith’s existence?
    I’m confused.

  • Annie

    I can understand why the school would want to block this, as I think Catholicism produces more atheists than most other religious groups (no proof, just my own thoughts).  All it would take would be a conversation examining transubstantiation… once you realize that priests aren’t magicians and you’re not really eating your savior’s body and drinking his blood, things start to unravel pretty quick.

  • BK

    Hey everyone.  First off, I can’t believe we made this blog, secondly we are loving the support, so thank you!!!  Alright, so here’s the part where I shamelessly ask for your help.  If you could go to the flyernews site linked in the first sentence and like the article on facebook, it’d be great.  Any and all coverage we get is a step in the right direction.  Furthermore, I went ahead and made a reddit link for the article, here

    Upboats would also be appreciated 🙂

    Thank you, Hemant, for the article, and thanks to everyone else for reading!  If you have any advice I’d be happy to hear it!

  • Steve

    What’s with this pope poster… “All your thinking are belong to us”?  Somebody needs to take English 101 for the first time.

    Of course the catholics don’t want an atheist organization on their campus – it exposes their racket. But the big question to me, is WHY someone who has the insight to become an atheist and the guts to come out on their campus is still going to school there. You can make your point best by coming out and transferring to a real institution of higher learning. In the meantime, you can run your underground movement on Facebook and Twitter and I’ll bet there is some public venue you could meet at. When someone blocks your path, find another way.

  • Jondo

    That poster is a spoof off of a poorly translated video game all your base belong to us

  • They’re stalling.

    The SSA affiliation being a problem is a red herring to eat up time, to delay until they can say it’s too late in the school year to start the “approval process,” or some other absurd bureaucratic rationalization.  They’re just hoping that Haynes and Branden will graduate and no other atheist students will come forward with the same determination.

    Keep up the pressure, don’t give up. Ms. Lopez-Matthews is contradicting herself, (“we want atheist students to meet and talk” vs. don’t want them to meet and talk) she’s contradicting the University’s written statements about values, (“dare to be exceptional” vs. don’t take exception to our assertions) and she’s contradicting the University’s practice about beliefs (“it’s in direct contrast to what we believe” vs. having an approved Muslim student group on campus.

    Include these contradictions and any others you find in your politely-phrased letters to the administration, asking for clarification. Is it this way or that way, please explain. If it hasn’t gotten out already, begin hinting that this might leak to the local press. Private colleges often are very shy about public controversy. They might rather quietly approve the SFT and hope that their very religious donors don’t find out until it has been on campus for a couple of years. Donors might have stronger objections if they think that their financial pressure on the University can prevent such a group from starting there.

  • Addendum to my thoughts:
    Whenever you can, offer your opponent a graceful way out, a face-saving manner for them to retreat instead of a head-to-head clash.  Perhaps suggest to Ms. Lopez-Mathews that they can “spin” the acceptance of the SFT as an example of the University’s “courageous and thorough pursuit of both strong faith and intellectual integrity” or some other lofty-sounding “universitese.”

  • Erp

    Catholic Universities may well vary due to who runs them (Society of Mary for University of Dayton,  DePaul is run by the Vincentians).

  • Sean

    I graduated from the University of Dayton in 1990. This is where and when I officially became an atheist, and I sure did feel like I was alone in my views. I would have really appreciated a group like this when I attended. I will be sure to bring this up the next time the University calls me asking for a donation. Unacceptable.

  • Oldtyme Flyer

    As a 1971 graduate of UD, I also experienced that feeling of isolation.  At the time, UD was promotoing itself as the local liberal college that locals could attend without fear of indoctrination.  You could substitute philosophy classes for the required religion classes (if you were not Catholic)!  Overall, the attitude of the administration was that diversity and differences of opinion were OK in an academic environment – that the church was confident enough that it could stand a few dissenting voices – like Martin Luther.

    But I watched from afar as that seemed to change over the years.  It was not without note that increasingly their being a “Marianist Institution” was raised by their publications.

    My feeling of connectedness to UD is very minimal and this is certainly driving it the wrong direction.

  • Anonymous

    I am going to ask the “liberal” profs I know who teach there how they feel about this…

  • Grady

    As a Christian, I have tried to join Four Atheist Meetups in the Kansas City Missouri area.

    Why?  To debate atheists and challenge them on their ground.

    I have been treated like garbage and banned from every one of them. 

    Atheists don’t want to be challenged, and yet the KC groups are controlled by some particularly agressive organizers who make trips to various churches with the idea of…you guesssed it…debating Christians  and challenging them on their ground,

    But “free”thinkers they are not.

    Their totalitarian mindset will out; I wonder if it is just the Kansas City groups, because one of their key people is a Russian Immigrant  who was raised under the former Soviet Union Educational System of is it others as well?

    From what I see on the blogs, its everywhere.

  • Branden King

    Oldtyme Flyer,

    Your post is exactly the reason that a group like this should be recognized by the university.  It can be a lonely place for those of us who don’t subscribe to faith.  Since you’re an alum, I believe that it would really help our cause if you would be kind enough write a letter to Ms. Sullivan, Ms. Lopez-Matthews, and the president, Dr. Curran, expressing your support for us.

    Thank you for taking the time to post your thoughts, it’s inspiring us to keep pushing toward our goal.

  • BK

    Oh, also, I’m Branden King, one of the guys from the article.

  • BK


    If you would be kind enough to endorse us in a letter to Ms. Crystal Sullivan, Ms. Amy Lopez-Matthews, and the president, Dr. Dan Curran, we would really appreciate it.  I think it’s important for them to know that there are many people on campus who will benefit from a group like this.  The feeling that you missed out on something shows that the absence of a freethought group is a great disservice to many students on campus.

    Thanks for your story,
    -Branden King

  • Oldtyme Flyer


    Your approach is wrong.  If someone goes “into the Lion’s Den” with the intention of debating – then you aren’t attending a “Meetup” for its intended purpose.  What would your attitude be if an atheist were to attend your church picnic with the idea of debating?

    On the other hand, if you were to attend a scheduled and advertised debate, that would be different.

  • Every time I see that Pope’s picture, I can’t help but wonder if the bishops who elected him couldn’t have picked a man who looks more like Emperor Palpatine? There’s just not enough Sith in that man.

    Oh, and the caption would’ve been better had it read “All your think are belong to us”.

  • You would think, but it’s amazing how many Catholics either don’t know they’re supposed to believe in transubstantiation, or outright reject it. I’m surrounded by tons of liberal, pro-choice, birth control-using Catholics who are no fans of the Pope, but they still haven’t given up their supernatural beliefs. They continue to attend mass, give money to the church, and send their children to Catholic school or CCD.

  • dunnoY

    My question is, what is the great need to be an accepted part of the University?  I don’t think that UD has reached the level of a police state where you are not allowed to meet, discuss and have your thoughts be heard. Is there a reason that this group needs to be an accepted part of the University’s club system? Do you anticipate having to hold meetings in basements, have secret handshakes and be concerned with being hauled off to confession?   College campuses – by nature – are very liberal places, and discussion of religion on every level is the norm, but as a private University they hold the right to decide how they are represented… or it is just a case of liking the attention and notoriety that this issues is bringing.  I’ll go with the latter.

  • Linmik76

    I have to ask, why did you choose a college where you were bound to feel a lack of  “connectedness” (is that a word?).  Did you not have other options, even “back in the day”?   DId you do any research on UD and on Catholicism before you applied and were excepted?   The religious affliation wasn’t exactly a secret….was just in the neighborhood?  

  • BK

    I went to Catholic schools all my life.  When I was applying for college, I didn’t want it to change much from my high school experience, and a bunch of friends from my graduating class came here too.  And, at the time, I still considered myself a Catholic (albeit one who took the book very lightly).  That was a long five years ago.

  • Bk

    By refusing to recognize us, they’re also denying us the right to advertise for our group on campus.  Bulletin boards, flyers, tabling, etc.   They monitor and need to approve any of those types of activities.

  • Cheadle 3

    Hemant, Andy Cheadle here (ACO with the SSA).  When I went to meet with UD’s administration, they outright admitted discrimination as their number one cause for denying the group’s existence.  

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