MADISON, Wisc. — University officials have agreed to settle a case involving a university policy threatening disciplinary action for resident assistants holding Bible studies anywhere in their dorms.
“Colleges and universities shouldn’t treat Christian students any differently than other students--whether religious or not,” said ADF Senior Legal Counsel Kevin Theriot. “ADF is very pleased that school officials at the University of Wisconsin at Eau Claire changed their minds and decided to respect the First Amendment rights of RAs instead of restricting them. A student’s speech in his dorm room is free; the fact that the speech is religious doesn’t change that.”
ADF attorneys filed the lawsuit on behalf of Lance Steiger, a student residential assistant who had led Bible studies in his dorm room since becoming an RA several years ago. Recently, university officials informed Steiger and other RAs that they were prohibited from holding Bible studies anywhere in their dorms, including their own rooms. Other RAs had led groups in their rooms to discuss various topics including feminism and sexual issues.
The university did not change its policy against Bible studies in dorms, even after Steiger contacted the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, which wrote a letter to university officials explaining Steiger’s rights. When ADF attorneys representing Steiger filed the lawsuit, the university temporarily suspended its policy, saying it would form a committee to study the matter.
“The university came to the right conclusion that the First Amendment protects religious speech and that this student’s rights had indeed been violated,” said Theriot. “It’s about time universities take a look at their policies and focus on being constitutionally correct instead of ‘politically correct.’”
As a part of the settlement, university officials paid Steiger a symbolic damages award of $1 as well as attorneys’ fees and costs. A copy of the consent order dismissing the case, Steiger v. Lord-Larson, from the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin can be read here.
ADF is a legal alliance defending the right to hear and speak the Truth through strategy, training, funding, and litigation.