For its first 26 years, University students were required to attend Christian chapel service every day. When the practice was challenged by a student suspended for failure to attend, the University’s policy was upheld by the Illinois Supreme Court. After the requirement was dropped, the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) became a major force on campus, serving for many years as a de facto student affairs office.
In a move to create a more welcoming environment in the early 20th century, President Edmund James fostered religious diversity by inviting denominations to establish student foundations to teach for-credit, faith-based classes to University students. The first Jewish Hillel Foundation and the first residential Catholic Newman Center in the country were established on the Illinois campus. Today, the University of Illinois campus environs host the largest number of religious outreach programs in the world, representing every major faith tradition.