Religious studies proposal respects everyone’s rights

March 7, 2006

A compromise proposal before the University of Wisconsin Board of Regents resolves a potential church-state problem in a positive and common-sense way.

At issue is whether resident assistants — who serve as floor leaders in university dormitories throughout the state — have the same rights as other students to be involved in political or religious activities.

The issue arose in July at UW-Eau Claire, when a resident assistant was told to stop leading Bible study classes in his dorm room.

The assistant, a member of the local Campus Crusade for Christ, was told by a housing official that “When you are in your residence hall, you are always a staff member and as such need to follow these policies so that students are more likely to feel you are approachable.”

There were two rights in conflict in the issue. One was the right of the assistant to practice his religion or exercise his political rights. The other was the right for other students in the dorm to feel free from pressure to attend the Bible study classes, or to be free of any notion that they had to believe as he did to fit in.

It was not alleged that the assistant pressured anyone to attend the sessions, nor was it alleged that any other student felt pressured.

The resident assistant filed suit in federal court. The Alliance Defense Fund, a national group that is representing the assistant, said it would have to see the policy in its final form, have it adopted in all UW campuses, and know what the Eau Claire campus plans to do before settling.

The proposed policy essentially allows resident assistants to hold such meetings in their rooms, the same as other students are allowed to do, as long as no one is required or pressured to attend.

That makes good sense. Because resident assistants are paid to work as leaders in their dormitories, no other student should have to feel pressured or ostracized because he or she is of the wrong religion or political organization.

But resident assistants should not have to give up their First Amendment rights in the process. This proposal seems to respect everybody’s rights.

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Schools: University of Wisconsin – Eau Claire Cases: University of Wisconsin at Eau Claire: Ban on RAs’ Leading Bible Studies