Should private Catholic schools allow atheist clubs on campus?
What if they weren’t called atheist clubs, but something less combative, like “freethought” or “secular” groups?
The administrators don’t have to allow them, but you could easily make the argument that students who attend these schools may be questioning their faith, and any place of higher education ought to embrace that discussion… or stop calling themselves a “place of higher education.”
Turns out some big Catholic colleges understand this. Loyola University, Depaul University, Georgetown University — they all have Secular Student Alliance affiliates.
But an article published on the online publication of The Cardinal Newman Society argues that these groups have no business on Catholic campuses:
Dr. Douglas Flippen, professor and chairman of philosophy at Christendom College in Front Royal, Va., told The Cardinal Newman Society that such clubs conflict with a college’s Catholic identity.
“Any Catholic college or university which admits atheists among its members who have no interest in gaining a Catholic vision of reality, and then allows them to form communities of atheists within the larger community, has simply abandoned the common good peculiar to itself,” Flippen said.
On some level, I understand where he’s coming from. It’s a Catholic school, so why provide a haven for atheists? But these students are generally teenagers and young adults. Many of them are still forming their opinions on these subjects. Even if they applied as Catholics, they should have the freedom to explore other ideas with the university’s blessing.
There’s also a fundamental misunderstanding of what these atheist groups do: They’re not promoting atheism so much as providing a safe space to question religion and offering alternative perspectives. Those are incredibly important groups to have on any campus.
Whether these schools like it or not, many students attend for reasons that have nothing to do with their personal faith. Maybe their parents paid for tuition or the school had a great reputation in a certain area. (I attended a Catholic-affiliated graduate school because the Masters degree program was good and the courses fit into my schedule.) These students ought to have an outlet to explore religion in a way that might seriously challenge them.
Administrators who say no to that are basically saying “We don’t want you to examine your faith very closely.” They’re admitting their beliefs can’t withstand real scrutiny.
They might as well have students check a box on the application that says “I promise to never ask tough questions about anything.” It would save everyone a lot of confusion down the road.