The other day, the online publication of The Cardinal Newman Society posted about how Catholic universities should say no to atheist groups on campus.
I was frustrated by the piece because those groups do a lot for students at those schools. Among other things, they provide a safe space to question faith and encourage open discussion on religious matters. Cutting off atheist groups would probably do more to push people away from the faith than keeping them there.
“Catholic universities should remember that they are not just Catholic, they are also universities. Universities should be places where people of diverse identities fearlessly exchange ideas,” said August E. Brunsman IV, Executive Director of the Secular Student Alliance. “These Catholic universities try to recruit students of all stripes with statements about how much they embrace diversity and celebrate intellectual freedom,” Brunsman continued. “We want them to live up to that ideal and welcome Secular Student Alliance groups as part of their diverse communities.”
I couldn’t agree more. These administrators ought to welcome faith-based discussions — even ones that may be critical of Catholicism. That’s all these groups are doing: having conversations. Atheists attend Catholic colleges for a number of reasons that have nothing to do with faith, and rejecting SSA groups wouldn’t mean an end to atheists on campus.
The SSA also started an online petition urging “The Cardinal Newman Society and associated universities to denounce religious discrimination and allow students to form Secular Student Alliance affiliates on their campus.”
I would take issue with the “discrimination” claim. That’s too over-the-top. These schools have every right to say no to granting official recognition to atheist groups. That’s not discrimination, even if it’s a horrible idea. That said, I fully agree with the spirit of the petition: I would love to see Catholic university leaders pledge to welcome a robust discussion of religion on their campuses, even if it means accepting groups that call out the worst aspects of Catholicism and other religions. If anything, those may be the most important groups to cultivate on campus.