The Society of Freethinkers, an organization fostering discussion of secular issues, has been denied official recognition by UD for the third time in two years.
In a letter addressed to the group’s leadership on Friday, Feb. 1, the university cited a discrepancy between the Catholic, Marianist identity of the school and the organization’s activities. Many of the members of the group identify themselves as atheist or agnostic.
In granting recognition to an organization on campus, the university allows UD’s name to be associated with the group. Thus, “the University reserves the right not to endorse organizations that our contrary to our Catholic, Marianist principles,” according to the university’s rejection letter as posted on SOFT’s Facebook page.
“We’re people that believe something differently, or don’t believe something,” senior entrepreneurship and leadership major Colin McGrath said. “It causes some angst.”
The group was first denied recognition as an official organization in August 2011.
In the months preceding the most recent decision and after SOFT’s second attempt for official recognition, the organization worked to revise its core documents in hopes of winning an appeal, according to group leadership.
While still denying SOFT in its revised application, UD “appreciate[s] the respectful dialogue and thoughtful changes [SOFT] made to [its] application for official status as a student organization,” according to the rejection letter.
The most recent rejection has the group’s leadership looking for answers and other avenues for official recognition by the university.
This time, the group will not have the ability to appeal the decision, according to McGrath.
SOFT’s mission statement includes a goal to “reduce the stigma associated with a lack of faith and foster acceptance of freethinkers, encourage understanding and respectful discourse between people of different faiths (including those with none),” according to SOFT’s constitution as adopted by its members.
The group consists of around 15 members but has had upwards of 30 students participate in its meetings, according to McGrath.
Its constitution says SOFT hopes to “organize activities, such as forums for discussion, guest speakers and debates that educate UD and surrounding community.”
“We don’t just focus on religion,” McGrath said. “We like to see ourselves as a group of students interested in intellectual conversations outside of the Catholic lens,” he said.
Branden King, a graduate student studying biology, said that universities similar to UD acknowledge freethinking groups on campus.
“DePaul University has a recognized secular student organization. As far as I know, that group hasn’t destroyed the Catholic identity of the school,” he said.
McGrath said, “We were attempting to be a group on campus to serve the need of students who are of secular or non-religious backgrounds.”
According to group leaders, official recognition would allow SOFT a venue for advertising – including posters or a table in KU to publicize the organization – and access to UD buildings for meetings and possible events.
King said that UD, as a private university, is well within its rights to deny SOFT recognition in the same light as other student organizations. He also said that the move is “anti-academic” and hopes the university will see positives in allowing the group to advertise and act as other organizations.
“We want to be part of the interfaith dialogue,” King said.
At time of publication, attempts were made to reach university officials for comments on SOFT’s denial but were unsuccessful.