The University of Wisconsin committee charged with making recommendations for a final, system-wide policy on whether RAs should be allowed to lead Bible studies in their dorms put out its Resident Assistant Working Group Final Report late last week. The committee’s recommendation: each school in the UW System should make the decision for itself. The Report reads:
[T]here is general agreement among UW System institutions in how they define the rights and responsibilities of RAs. In particular, there is agreement that RAs can participate in, organize, or lead meetings as long as they don’t use their position to inappropriately influence, pressure, or coerce student residents to attend. The determination of where the meetings may be held has been left to the discretion of the individual institutions.
As FIRE’s press release today points out, this is the opposite of the final, definite, system-wide policy recommendation for which we’re waiting. Either out of timidity or indecision, the committee did nothing more than restate the central controversy that it was supposed to resolve.
The Report suggests that UW–Eau Claire and UW-Madison, both of which currently prohibit RAs from leading Bible studies in their dorms, be able to maintain their unconstitutional, repressive, and highly unpopular practices of intruding upon the personal lives and private domains of religious RAs.
The committee, consisting largely of UW student affairs and resident life administrators, proved to be a colossal waste of time, as UW System President Kevin P. Reilly must realize. Having gotten nowhere with his internal committee, Reilly again asked for public input on the matter in a press release last week. FIRE has already sent a letter advising Reilly of the constitutional issues at stake. We encourage anyone who cares about the individual right to practice religion to weigh in on the issue on UW’s public comment website. There is still a glimmer of hope: Reilly can still step up to the plate and offer a definite policy that grants every student at every UW school the basic right to privately practice religion as he or she chooses.