God and Man in Wisconsin
November 2, 2005
In a shameful attack on freedom of religion, the University of Wisconsin–Eau Claire (UWEC) has banned resident assistants (RAs) from leading Bible studies in their own dormitories. The university claims the ban is necessary because some students might not feel RAs who lead Bible studies are “approachable.”
FIRE also pointed out a 2004 article in UWEC’s student newspaper in which the Office of Housing and Residence Life [the same folks who banned Bible study] praised an RA who for three years in a row staged the controversial feminist play The Vagina Monologues as an official “residence hall activity.” This praise came despite the RA’s acknowledgement that “with the Vagina Monologues…she [did not have] as much time as she would have liked for her wing.”
FIRE is quite right here, both as a matter of academic freedom and of First Amendment rights, and the university is quite wrong. It’s possible that the university might be able to insist that its RAs engage in no ideological group meetings at all in their dorm rooms, though even that would likely be unconstitutional. But to let them engage in a wide range of ideological speech, but singling out religious speech for special burden, is pretty clearly unconstitutional (under the Free Speech Clause, see Rosenberger v. Rector, and in my view under the Free Exercise Clause as well, McDaniel v. Paty).