A student who was banned from teaching Bible studies in his dorm room sued the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire for free speech and religious freedom violations, according to a lawsuit filed in a U.S. District Court.
Lance Steiger, a residential assistant (RA) who receives free room and board in addition to $675 per semester from the university, is asking that the judge declare the school policy unconstitutional, prevent its enforcement, and grant appropriate nominal damages, along with litigation costs. He is being represented by the Alliance Defense Fund, a Christian legal group.
"Colleges and universities shouldn't treat Christian students any differently than other students," said ADF Senior Legal Counsel Kevin Theriot in a written statement. "Unfortunately, by forcing residential assistants to refrain from exercising their First Amendment rights, the University of Wisconsin at Eau Claire is doing exactly that."
Steiger, along with other RAs were informed of the school policy in early July, according to a complaint filed with a U.S. District court in Wisconsin on Nov. 30. It states that school officials have applied the policy so as to allow non-religious speech by RAs and other student employees in their dorms, but prohibit religious free speech.
The complaint alleges that the condition for employment based on the policy requires that students forfeit a fundamental individual right.
"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 universitys Interim Chancellor Vicki Larson said that the policy had been suspended because a campus review found it to be poorly communicated and inconsistently enforced, according to the Associated Press.
She added that as long as there were no complaints, Steiger and other could hold bible studies. She said that a committee would make recommendations on the policies and how to guide RAs at a later time.
Theriot said that the lawsuit would continue despite the suspension.
"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, said Theriot.
It shouldn't take a committee to decide whether to respect the First Amendment rights of students."