UW System plan pleases religious group
March 6, 2006
Wisconsin State Journal
"We welcome the recommendation that will permit residence advisers to practice their faith and study the Bible with their friends in their dormitories," said Tony Arnold, a spokesman for the Campus Crusade for Christ.
System officials have said a written policy will be proposed to the UW Board of Regents this week.
The RA, Lance Steiger, is a member of the Campus Crusade for Christ, which has about 55,000 active student participants on 1,300 campuses.
"We are not a party to the lawsuit. We welcome the university's recommendation," said Arnold, adding that the group has not experienced similar problems at any other campus.
The recommendation would have the System's campuses establish a written policy and a process to address complaints if a student feels an RA used the position to "inappropriately influence, pressure, or coerce student residents to attend or participate."
Few of the campuses had written policies in place, said Doug Bradley, a System spokesman. UW-Madison has one that, similar to the unwritten Eau Claire policy, doesn't allow RAs to lead such meetings in their own dorms.
"We get challenged all the time, especially since the Eau Claire thing happened," she said.
She said the group is "one of the biggest groups on campus," and includes students of all religions. The recommended policy "will obviously be great for us. We have Bible studies going on all the time in dorms and we have for quite a while," she said.
"We don't have many (RAs) leading Bible studies because, well, they're always so busy doing the (RA) thing," she said. "But just being able to teach in the dorms is huge. There are so many students who like the Bible studies."
Christopher Hallquist, a freshman and spokesman for a smaller campus group, the Atheists, Humanists & Agnostics at UW-Madison, said his main thought on the original issue was that "the students there were just being asked (to) follow a rule that applies to all political groups, and that is that there be no political or religious activities in the dormitories by the resident assistants."
One of Steiger's complaints was that the unwritten rule was not uniformly enforced.
"Whatever the rules are," said Hallquist, "they should be the same rules for everybody."
He said his group, described as "humanist, irreligious or skeptical students" was in its first year on campus.
"Everyone should be concerned about it. Though it has to do with one group of religious students, students not of that faith should also agree with it. The argument here is that the resident assistant should be treated with dignity and should be allowed to have a private sphere," he said.
He said that "the most insulting thing" about the Eau Claire case was that university officials assumed that because the RA was Christian, "that would make him unapproachable to other students."
The group is not part of the lawsuit, though it directed Steiger to the Alliance Defense Fund.
Alliance Defense Fund lawyer Kevin Theriot said Friday three things have to happen for the lawsuit to be settled.
"The Regents have to adopt (the policy), we have to see it in its final form and we have to know what the Eau Claire campus is going to do," he said. "Are they going to mandate that all of the campuses have the same policy? If so, this will go along way toward fixing it."
"I am very optimistic that if this goes through as written the matter will be resolved," he added.
A Regents committee will consider the policy Thursday and recommend action to the Regents at a meeting Friday.
- UW System plan pleases religious group, PDF, 117 KB , Wisconsin State Journal