MADISON, Wis., January 16, 2006—The University of Wisconsin (UW) has missed yet another opportunity to demonstrate that it respects its resident assistants’ (RAs’) basic rights. A UW System committee recommended late last week that two UW campuses be allowed to maintain policies banning RAs from leading Bible studies on their own time and in their own dormitories. UW has faced months of intense public scrutiny since the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) brought the unconstitutional ban to light.
“This report is a complete waste of time,” declared FIRE Interim President Greg Lukianoff. “Its authors evidently have no problem with treating RAs who wish to engage in private religious expression as second-class citizens.”
Incredibly, UW’s Resident Assistant Working Group Final Report endorses policies that have already led to a federal lawsuit against the University of Wisconsin–Eau Claire (UWEC). As FIRE revealed late last year, a UWEC administrator sent letters ordering Christian RAs who had been leading weekly Bible studies in their own rooms to cease and desist. The administrator maintained that the private, unofficial Bible studies would make the RAs less “approachable.” Such a statement ignored the fact that UWEC encourages RAs to lead controversial politicized events including The Vagina Monologues, a “Privilege Walk,” a “Tunnel of Oppression,” and seminars promoting feminism.
“UWEC bans a form of private religious expression, but actually funds public political expression with tax dollars,” remarked Lukianoff. “The report’s failure to recognize this glaring double standard shows that UW is not serious about treating its students equally.”
Following enormous public uproar over the policy, UW System President Kevin P. Reilly asked a committee to study the issue and make recommendations to establish a system-wide policy on ideological activity by RAs. Yet the group’s report recommends the opposite: that no system-wide policy be established to determine where RAs may hold Bible studies. UW is now seeking public comments on the report at www.wisconsin.edu/RAfeedback.htm.
“Despite this disappointing report, President Reilly still has the opportunity to do the right thing by establishing a uniform policy that respects the right of RAs to engage in private religious activity on their own time,” said Lukianoff. “We urge all those concerned about the policy to go to UW’s public comment webpage and speak their minds.”
FIRE is a nonprofit educational foundation that unites civil rights and civil liberties leaders, scholars, journalists, and public intellectuals from across the political and ideological spectrum on behalf of individual rights, due process, freedom of expression, academic freedom, and rights of conscience at our nation’s colleges and universities. FIRE’s efforts to preserve liberty at the University of Wisconsin–Eau Claire can be viewed at thefire.org/uwec.