The Words of the Moffitt Family
University Caught In Bind Over Bible Study Ban
November 14, 2005
UPI Religion & Spirituality Forum
University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire claims other dorm-sponsored activities equally banned too. But it ain't so.
WASHINGTON, November 14 (UPI) -- Under nationwide pressure over its ban on private, Bible studies lead by dorm resident assistants in the own rooms, the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire (UWEC) has widened its assault on basic civil liberties while engaging in a campaign of deception, according to the civil rights watchdog group Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE).
David French, president of FIRE said, "The university claims that (in the name of fairness) resident assistants (RAs) are now prohibited from 'leading, organizing or recruiting students' for any organization or activity in their dorms."
French says this assertion is "contradicted by the evidence," citing a typical form letter to new RAs which says the RA is required "To help organize and promote, educational, recreational, social and cultural activities that the students want and need, and to contribute to the success of these activities by enthusiastic attendance and participation."
The Bible-study controversy began last July, when an administrator banned RAs from leading private, non-school-sponsored Bible studies in their dorms out of concern that students might feel "judged" and that RAs who lead Bible studies might not be sufficiently "approachable" by students.
French accuses the university of deception in saying the ban on RAs organizing activities is an across-the-board policy.
To quiet the outcry from Christian student organizations on campus, the University of Wisconsin's general counsel issued a letter on November 8 in which they attempted to justify the Bible study ban by claiming that UWEC has "consistently followed" a "viewpoint neutral" policy prohibiting RAs from organizing or leading "all organization [sic] or activities."
According to French, in addition to contradicting the stated job description for RAs, the letter is also inconsistent with praise given by the university to RA Dusty Huebner last year for organizing an official dorm production of "The Vagina Monologues." Jodi Thesing-Ritter, assistant director of Housing and Residence Life was quoted in a student publication, regarding Huebner's effort, "A benefit for students getting involved on campus is that students learn better time-management, organizational and teamwork skills"
"UWEC's claim that RAs are banned from organizing any activities is not only disingenuous; it is clearly a post hoc justification of its earlier viewpoint-discriminatory restrictions on RAs' religious expression," remarked FIRE Director of Legal and Public Advocacy Greg Lukianoff. He added, "Further, for a university to decide that an acceptable alternative to banning the expression of only some viewpoints, is to ban all viewpoints -- is disgraceful and shows a real ignorance of what it means to be a university in a free society."
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.
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