News from Around Wisconsin

November 23, 2005

MADISON, Wis. (AP) – The state’s attorney general will not step into a contentious debate over a University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire policy banning resident assistants from holding Bible studies in their dorm rooms.

UW System President Kevin Reilly asked Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager last week for her opinion on whether the policy violated those students’

constitutional right to practice religion. Lautenschlager’s top aide, Dan Bach, turned down Reilly’s request in a letter Monday.

Bach said if the attorney general were to call the policy unconstitutional, her opinion would compromise the office’s ability to represent the state should someone sue over the policy. “In effect we would be conceding liability on behalf of the state,” he wrote.

Without help from Lautenschlager, UW System spokesman Doug Bradley said Reilly will seek counsel from university lawyers and regents as he reviews the policy. He said Reilly expected to announce any changes next week.

“We want to take a look at this to figure out what’s the best way to go so that everybody’s rights are respected,” Bradley said Tuesday.

Reilly’s request came after the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, a Philadelphia group that defends free speech and religious liberty on college campuses, criticized the school’s unwritten policy earlier this month. U.S. Rep. Mark Green, a Green Bay Republican who is running for governor in 2006, has repeatedly called the policy an assault on students’ constitutional  rights.

Reilly, in a letter to Lautenschlager last week, said the policy bans residents assistants from leading activities like partisan politics, religious studies or sales party events in their dorm rooms. Reilly said the policy is meant to stop RAs from pressuring students they supervise into participating.

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