You might remember the lawsuit we filed earlier this month on behalf of a student at Iowa State University, where he was told he must sign away his free speech in order to graduate.
In this week’s iteration of “unconstitutional roadblocks to graduation,” the University of Wisconsin, Eau Claire is denying two students credit for the community service they did through a local church – credit that they need to graduate.
Today, Alliance Defending Freedom filed suit on behalf of these two students.
You see, UW-Eau Claire requires all students to complete 30 hours of community service, or what they call “service-learning”, in order to be eligible for graduation. According to the Service-Learning Guidebook, “Service-Learning includes both service and learning to promote the common good.”
Students have considerable leeway in deciding what they do to complete this requirement, and the University clearly states that it does not endorse the activities or organizations in which students choose to serve. However, the University bans students from receiving service-learning credit for any “time spent directly involved in promoting religious doctrine, proselytizing, or worship.”
This is a clear case of viewpoint discrimination that we are asking the university to rectify.
Our clients served as teaching assistants in Sunday School and religious education classes at the local Catholic church. One sought credit for her hours and was denied due to this policy. The other learned that her friend’s hours were denied and has not yet tried to get her hours approved.
“No public university should ever use a community service program as a vehicle to advance and instill anti-religious bias,” said ADF Legal Counsel Travis Barham. “If the University of Wisconsin–Eau Claire wants to require its students to perform community service, it must treat all forms of community service as equally valuable. The Constitution and federal court precedent prohibit it from targeting religious community service and denying students credit for it. That kind of animosity toward and discrimination against religion is unconstitutional.”
The policy is virtually identical to one that the Seventh Circuit struck down in Badger Catholic v. Walsh, another ADF case. There, UW-Madison banned student groups from receiving student fee funding for events that involved “prayer, worship, and proselytizing.” The Seventh Circuit ruled that this restriction constituted content or viewpoint discrimination and thus violated the First Amendment.
University Officials Do Not Get to Decide Which Viewpoints Are Acceptable on Campus
Public universities can never be a true “marketplace of ideas” when university officials decide which ideas are acceptable on campus and which are not. Share this post to spread the word about unconstitutional policies like this one at the University of Wisconsin, Eau Claire.