This Month in FIRE History: Religious Liberty Vindicated Across University of Wisconsin System

By March 31, 2010

In March of 2006, FIRE scored an important victory for religious liberty across the University of Wisconsin System. The case began in July of 2005, when an administrator at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire sent a letter to the school’s Christian resident assistants (RAs) ordering them to stop leading Bible studies in their dormitories. More specifically, administrators banned all voluntary studies of the Bible, Koran, and Torah that took place in the RAs’ rooms or anywhere in their dormitories.

The officials believed that holding such studies would make RAs less "approachable" to students who did not share their beliefs. Despite this concern, they had previously praised an RA in UW-Eau Claire’s student newspaper who, for three years in a row, staged the controversial feminist play The Vagina Monologues as an official "residence hall activity." As then-FIRE president David French said at the time, "The First Amendment doesn’t end with a Bible study or with The Vagina Monologues—it guarantees a student’s right to perform both."   

After FIRE took the case public, there was a surge of media attention and a lawsuit, filed by the ADF, which resulted in UW-Eau Claire suspending the policy. After six months of pressure from FIRE, the Board of Regents put an end to the controversy by approving a policy that gave RAs the right to "participate in, organize, and lead any meetings or other activities, within their rooms, floors or residence halls, or anywhere else on campus, to the same extent as other students."

The case was also featured in an episode of the PBS series Voices of Vision, which you can watch here.

Schools: University of Wisconsin – Eau Claire