BLOGHere We Go Again: ADF Sues the Univ. of Wisconsin System for the 7th Time

By Sarah Kramer Posted on: | November 18, 2016

Some universities never learn.

You would think after the seventh time we’ve taken legal action against the University of Wisconsin System (UW), that their campuses would be more open to free speech and that they would more closely resemble a true “marketplace of ideas.”

No such luck.

Last week, ADF sued the University of Wisconsin, Eau Claire on behalf of two students who served as teaching assistants in Sunday school and religious education classes at a local Catholic church, but were blocked from using these hours toward the “service learning” (or community service) requirement they have to satisfy to graduate. One student had applied for credit for these hours and was denied, and after hearing that her friend’s hours were denied, the other student has not yet attempted to get hers approved.

You see, the university’s policy bans students from receiving credit hours for any “time spent directly involved in promoting religious doctrine, proselytizing, or worship” – language that closely mirrors a policy at UW-Madison that was ruled unconstitutional (more on that below). This is a blatant case of viewpoint discrimination.

In light of this new case, let’s look back at a few of the other cases and victories against UW.


Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System v. Southworth

Scott Southworth, a student at UW, asked to opt out of the mandatory student fee, which was being used to fund student groups and organizations that he disagreed with. When the university refused his request, ADF filed suit against the university on his behalf. The case went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, where the court ruled 9-0 that the university must change its policy and distribute the fees in a viewpoint-neutral manner because the fees were mandatory. 


Badger Catholic v. Walsh

ADF filed a lawsuit on behalf of Badger Catholic at UW-Madison, and the federal appeals court in Chicago ruled that the university violated the First Amendment by denying funding to Badger Catholic events that included prayer, worship, or proselytizing while providing funding for other student organizations events. UW appealed to the US Supreme Court, which declined to hear the case allowing the ruling to stand.


IV Christian Fellowship UW-Superior v. Walsh

ADF filed a lawsuit on behalf of the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship on UW-Superior’s campus after the university declined to recognize InterVarsity as an official student group. The university claimed the Christian student group was in violation of the schools “nondiscrimination” policy which would require the group to open its leadership to everyone, even those who do not uphold the religious mission of the group. The university settled the lawsuit and allowed InterVarsity official recognition as a student group.


Steiger v. Lord-Larson

Lance Steiger, a Resident Assistant (RA) at UW-Eau Claire, held a Bible study in his room for interested students, but he received a letter from the school stating that he was violating school policy and would receive “disciplinary action” if he continued to host the Bible study. ADF filed suit on Lance’s behalf, and the university agreed to revise its policies to allow RAs to lead, organize, and participate in activities to the same extent as other students on campus.


Public universities should never be able to exclude certain viewpoints and promote others.

Consider sharing this blog on social media to spread the word about the poor climate for free speech at the University of Wisconsin and to shed light on university policies that suppress free speech.


Sarah Kramer

Digital Content Specialist

Sarah worked as an investigative reporter before joining the Alliance Defending Freedom team.

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