UW-Eau Claire is reviewing legalities of Bible study ban

By on November 3, 2005

MILWAUKEE – The University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire is reviewing the legalities of its policy banning resident assistants from leading Bible studies in their dorms, a spokesman said Thursday.

The university’s associate director for housing and residence life sent a letter last July to several resident assistants who had been leading Bible studies.

Deborah Newman said in the letter that if the studies continued, students might not find them “approachable” or might fear they’d be “judged or pushed in a direction that does not work for them.” Newman added that resident assistants who persist in holding Bible studies would face disciplinary action.

One of the resident assistants, Lance Steiger, then contacted the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education in Philadelphia. The group sent a letter to the school Oct. 10, asking the school to end the ban and tell the students they were no longer prohibited from conducting Bible studies.

UW-Eau Claire spokesman Mike Rindo said Thursday the university prohibits resident assistants from leading Bible studies or other activities like partisan political events in the dorms. It doesn’t prohibit them from attending them.

The university, which is about 250 miles northwest of Milwaukee, is reviewing past policies and practices and getting advice from legal counsel, Rindo said.

“What is appropriate and what isn’t – that is what we are asking,” he said. “We are looking at every aspect of this.”

University officials plan to make a decision soon on the issue, Rindo said.

Steiger, a senior business finance major, said the ban surprised him because he never received complaints. He said the Bible studies, as part the university’s chapter of Campus Crusade for Christ, never interfered with his duties.

The 21-year-old went to the foundation after another resident assistant approached Newman to unsuccessfully urge her to change the policy.

“Christians and non-Christians alike are surprised and usually their first comment is, ‘They can’t do that,’” Steiger said.

Steiger said he continues to hold Bible studies in his dorm, but not in his dorm room.

David French, the foundation’s president, said the ban is unconstitutional and discriminatory.

By singling out the Bible studies, French said the university is saying, “This speech is less valuable and more worthy of restriction than other forms of speech.”

U.S. Rep. Mark Green, R-Green Bay, wrote a letter Thursday to the university’s Interim Chancellor Vicki Lord Larson demanding the university rescind its decision.

“This mandate is misguided, illegal and a clear affront to these students’ religious liberty,” Green, a school alumnus, said in the letter.

Steiger said he doesn’t know what he’ll do next.

“I haven’t ruled anything out,” he said.


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Schools: University of Wisconsin – Eau Claire