Can I get an 'amen'?

By Lori Foley
Arizona Daily Wildcat
September 8, 2005

Almost any student involved on campus has suffered through it: the embarrassingly under-attended car wash. It seems like such a good idea for a fundraiser when you're all fully clothed and dry during your club meeting.

But as you jump up and down on Speedway, wave a wrinkled and water-stained sign that begs (as opposed to announces) "car wash" and avert your eyes at your sponsor's awkward "beach wear," you ask yourself, "Isn't there a better way?"

The Associated Students of the University of Arizona has one. Campus clubs can apply for much-needed special funding for events through its appropriations board. Obviously, these special funds are meant to augment, and not replace, group fund-raising activities.

But the money available can go a long way toward helping plan and promote an event. And these funds, though not huge amounts, are important because the events staged by student groups do a vast amount to enrich our campus.

ASUA has recognized that through funding many different types of campus events, it has the ability to help students manifest the diversity that they bring to the UA. With this in mind, the senate, acting for the Appropriations Board, approved funding for a student-organized religious group's event during its meeting last week.

Not surprisingly, this decision sparked a bit of controversy, provoking heated debate in the senate before the appropriation was permitted and some angry letters to the editor after it passed.

However, funding religiously themed campus groups is not only an acceptable practice, it is one that benefits the entire student body, regardless of religious affiliation.

As long as funding is not geared toward one particular set of beliefs, funding for religious groups on campus promotes diversity. Of the 173 clubs and organizations currently listed on the ASUA homepage, approximately 20 are religion-based.

These student organizations run the gamut from the Bahai Association to the Korean Christian Community to Geniuses of Diversity, a group for atheists, agnostics and skeptics. Just as our student body represents an incredibly diverse mix of beliefs, the recognized clubs on campus do as well.

Ensuring a wide range of religious (and specifically non-religious) opportunities for students enhances the diversity of thought on this campus. Through the availability of a greater range of clubs and activities, students are given more opportunities to explore what they do and do not believe.

A common criticism of funding religion-oriented groups through official channels is that "religion should stay out of education." For some reason, many of us think about separation of church and state strictly in terms of exorcising any religious undertakings whatsoever from public education and its associated activities.

But it's the same first amendment that forbids ASUA from selecting a single, preferred religion that also assures us all freedom of association and speech - even if that speech is religiously motivated.

As long as there is sufficient interest in an event, the particular religious background of the sponsoring group is irrelevant. Neither the opportunity to request funding, nor the ability to appropriate funds, is limited to any specific religious or non-religious group. No specific religion is being chosen for us; there's no first amendment issue at play.

Another major criticism of funding for religious groups is that they, by their very nature, exclude the non-religious. However, in order for any religious activity to be funded by ASUA, it must be open to all students. That's more than can be said for many other clubs that receive ASUA funding despite strict application and admission processes, which in the end exclude some students who want to participate.

Certainly, non-religious students are not likely to choose to attend an event staged by a religious group. But in the same way, a math hater is unlikely to attend an event held by the Aerospace Booster Club, and someone who can't stand handball isn't likely to gatecrash the Handball Club's picnic.

When we do take the time to investigate clubs, even those that are out of our norms, from Wildcat Dodgeball to the Young Socialists to any of the varied religious organizations with a presence on campus, we're doing something the university's been talking about for years: We're fostering diversity.

So, thanks to ASUA for helping students find their own way to a more diverse university through letting all voices - even religious ones - be heard. It looks like this campus may just have a prayer.

Lori Foley is a senior majoring in

English and French. She can be reached at