Two Wisconsin legislators expressed outrage last week over University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire’s policy of prohibiting residential assistants from leading bible study groups in their dorm rooms.
This policy has been attracting attention after the Philadelphia-based Foundation for Individual Rights in Education made public last week their concern with UW-Eau Claire’s policy.
“Essentially what [UW-Eau Claire officials] are saying is students who become RAs have to surrender their right to pursue their faith, even within the privacy of their own dorm rooms,” U.S. Rep. Mark Green, R-Wis., said.
Green said he talked with a UW-Eau Claire student on Sunday who has been affected by this policy.
“He was very bothered by a policy that would require him to stop practicing his faith.” Green said.
Both Green and state Rep. Scott Suder, R-Abbotsford, called the policy unconstitutional and “un-American.” They accused UW-Eau Claire of infringing on the rights of students to free speech and freedom of religion.
According to UW-Eau Claire spokesperson Mike Rindo, the university is currently investigating this policy to determine how to handle future situations regarding RA’s religious practices within the dorms. UW-Eau Claire will assess future incidents on a case-by-case basis until a definitive policy can be put in place.
“We don’t want to make a hasty decision,” Rindo said, refusing to go into specifics or to defend the policy.
Green and Suder expressed concerns about this policy infringing on not only religious practices, but other forms of free speech as well. They believe this policy could be applied to other aspects of an RA’s freedom of expression, including politics.
“Where does it stop?” Rep. Green questioned. “How many rights of freedom of speech, freedom of expression, freedom of religion, [must be limited] merely because [a student seeks] to become a RA?”
Suder questioned the motivation of the UW System for allowing such a policy to exist and criticized the system for entertaining such a policy at a time when they are struggling with other employment policy issues.
“The university system seems to be incredibly hypocritical here,” Suder said. “When it comes to [the UW System’s] own students and their own employees, they shut down their religious expressive rights.”
Suder added he feels the UW System is inventing excuses to shut down religious expression.
“This is yet another tragic episode in a long saga of disappointments with the UW,” Suder said.
Suder believes the policy should be overturned immediately, and added there should not be any policy in place at any university that would limit an RA’s freedom to practice their religion, as long as it does not infringe on others’ beliefs.
“The university is going in the wrong direction,” Suder said. “Isn’t the point of a university the free expression of ideas?”
When asked how the university will respond to such criticism, Rindo only said “they are entitled to their opinion.”
Schools: University of Wisconsin – Eau Claire