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Atheists To Purdue About Catholic Dorm: Set Thine House In Order

St. Thomas Aquinas

A prominent atheist group warns Purdue University could be setting a dangerous precedent with its proposed Catholic residence hall.

Patrick Elliott is an attorney with the Madison, Wisconsin-based Freedom from Religion Foundation. He says Purdue can’t favor one religion over others.

“What may be likely to happen is: what other religious groups are going to come forward and start to request property?” Elliott says. “Which, many times on campus, isn’t always abundant in terms of providing for each and every different religious group that may want to have a presence.”

The residence hall would be run by St. Thomas Aquinas church and located near the church, which is also on campus.

Elliott also says Purdue’s allowance of a Catholic residence hall on campus blurs the line between church and state.

He says because Purdue is a public university, it can’t aid churches to advance religious missions.

“I think that does open up problems for the university. In legal context, we often call that entanglement,” Elliott says. “So, what types of involvement the religious organization is going to have with the university is a problem.”

Elliott says it’s similar to the case Wirtz vs. the City of South Bend, Indiana, in which the city council helped a Catholic high school acquire land for an athletic center.

A district court issued a preliminary injunction in that case, and when the city tried to modify the deal to sell the property to the school, the court said it was an endorsement of Catholicism if the land was not opened to bidding.

The Purdue Research Foundation, which would own the building and handles money matters for the University, declined repeated requests for comment.