Legislators Renew Call for Religious Liberty at UW

By on February 9, 2006

FIRE recently received a copy of a letter sent on February 7 to Kevin Reilly, the president of the University of Wisconsin System, about the ongoing “Bible study ban” controversy there, which FIRE brought to public attention. It’s from ten Wisconsin state legislators and it’s so good that it’s worth quoting in full:

Dear President Reilly:

We wanted to weigh in on your ongoing dialogue, discussion, and effort to come up with a uniform, written, and defensible UW System policy regarding RA’s and their First Amendment rights.

First, we want to applaud you for testifying before the Assembly Colleges and Universities Committee about UW-Eau Claire RA Lance Steiger’s voluntary Bible Study sessions held in the basement of his dormitory that drew the attention and unspecified discipline from a UW Housing official. In the wake of an international firestorm that ensued, you clearly recognized, as did we, that this issue had become a public relations nightmare for the UW System. Your decision to form a task force to bring uniformity and consistency to this issue has, for now, defused the controversy. But we are getting concerned that you have not yet reached a decision, nearly three weeks after the deadline you had set. Moreover, the principles outlined in the Resident Assistant Working Group Final Report that you forwarded for public comment are vague, and do nothing to protect RA’s religious freedoms on UW campuses. Nor do they clarify when a RA is considered on or off-duty, whether RA’s are considered state employees and whether labor protections apply to them. In short, if those recommendations become your new policy, we will be back to square one on Mr. Steiger’s case.

Enclosed is a copy of Attorney General Lautenschlager’s November 21, 2005 letter with the 11 questions that your Working Group was going to use as a guide, as indicated in your testimony before the Committee.

We’re respectfully asking you to include in your final decision exactly what you told the Colleges and Universities Committee back in December: that as long as the activity was safe, legal, voluntary, an RA could freely do as they please in the confines of their own room, or dormitory. We are interested in “protecting” First Amendment rights on our public university campuses, and nothing in the Report seems to ensure that. Failure to clearly protect an RA’s rights will only lead to more litigation and more negative national publicity.

We’d like to put this matter to rest, and move on to more unifying issues that improve our state’s economy. We felt it was important to put our thoughts in writing so you know exactly where we stand prior to reaching your final written policy—which we hope will be forthcoming soon.

Best wishes,

Rob Kreibich
State Representative
93rd Assembly District

Samantha Kerkman
State Representative
66th Assembly District

Debi Towns
State Representative
43rd Assembly District

Stephen Nass
State Representative
31st Assembly District

Terry Moulton
State Representative
68th Assembly District

Robin Vos
State Representative
63rd Assembly District

Suzanne Jeskewitz
State Representative
24th Assembly District

Andy Lamb
State Representative
29th Legislative District

David Zien
State Senator
23rd Senate District

Joan Ballweg
State Representative
41st Assembly District

cc: U.S. Representative Mark Green

Kudos to these legislators for again calling on President Reilly to stand up for liberty. We look forward to seeing if he listens.

Schools: University of Wisconsin – Eau Claire University of Wisconsin – Madison