MADISON, Wisc. - Attorneys with the Alliance Defense Fund filed a federal civil rights lawsuit Wednesday against officials with the University of Wisconsin at Eau Claire for prohibiting residential assistants from holding Bible studies in their dorms.
"Colleges and universities shouldn't treat Christian students any differently than other students," said ADF Senior Legal Counsel Kevin Theriot. "Unfortunately, by forcing residential assistants to refrain from exercising their First Amendment rights, the University of Wisconsin at Eau Claire is doing exactly that."
ADF attorneys filed the suit on behalf of Lance Steiger, a student residential assistant. University officials informed Steiger and other RAs that they were not permitted to hold Bible studies anywhere in their dorms, including their own rooms. According to the complaint filed Wednesday, the officials have applied the policy "so as to allow non-religious speech by RAs and other student employees in their dorms, but prohibit religious speech."
"Essentially, the university is saying that, if you're a student dorm leader and you're not being disruptive, you can hold a 'kegger,' but you can't hold a Bible study," Theriot said. "This incredibly broad restriction on all RA speech seems to have been applied solely to religious speech in yet another example of political correctness run amok."
The university did not change its policy, even after Steiger contacted the Foundation for Individual Rights and Education, which wrote a letter to the school explaining Steiger's rights. But after ADF attorneys filed suit, the university temporarily suspended its policy, saying that a committee would study the matter.
"No official position of the university has changed. Our lawsuit will proceed until it's clear that the constitutional rights of students will be respected. It shouldn't take a committee to decide whether to respect the First Amendment rights of students," Theriot explained.
The full text of the complaint filed in the case Steiger v. Lord-Larson in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin can be read here. ADF-allied attorney Michael Dean of Waukesha is local counsel in the case.
ADF is a legal alliance of Christian attorneys and like-minded organizations defending the right of people to freely live out their faith. Launched in 1994, ADF employs a unique combination of strategy, training, funding, and litigation to protect and preserve religious liberty, the sanctity of life, marriage, and the family.