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Lawsuits and other silly things
Posted Dec 5, 2005 - 15:48:00

Lance SteigerSo, for those of you who don't either go to UW Eau Claire, or at least don't read newspaper articles about what happens in Northwestern Wisconsin, there has been a bit of a thing going on about Housing Resident Assistants not being allowed to run organized bible studies in their rooms. The policy has been temporarily suspended while the UW system decides on a new statewide policy. This entire situation has been snowballing though, and things have overall gotten out of hand on this issue. The latest development is a ridiculous lawsuit launched by Governors Hall RA Lance Steiger against the University. (Steiger pictured right)

I have a couple of things to say on this. First off, the debate is whether an RA (a state employee) should be able to hold an organized religious activity in their room (which is their state provided office). There was nothing in the policy about RAs attending in bible studies in other student's rooms, or in other halls, or pretty much ANYWHERE ELSE - just not in their own room. In their own room, they can still practice their religion in any way they see fit - they just can hold organized meetings on the subject.

Personally, I think this is all a massive overreaction. Lance, you knew going into the job that you were going to have to live by restrictions. Get over it. Your rights weren't infringed, and all they were doing was defending the establishment clause. You, as an RA, are an arm of a state institution. If you want to hold a bible study, go over to a friend's room. It's not hard - someone else should be able to host as there has to be more than one person in a group for it to be a group.

What I've also been angry at are some of the characterizations of Associate Director of Housing Deb Newman, who was merely enforcing a pre-existing policy. Apparently, Deb is an atheist heathen set on destroying Christianity... which I'm sure the rest of her Church choir would be surprised to find out. Yes, Deb is Christian. Very much so. It's not about whether Christianity is good or bad, it's about defending the Constitution. She didn't set the policy either, contrary to what many have said. She merely ENFORCED the policy.

Which is her job. Deb, from what I've seen, has been incredibly frustrated too, as she can't respond to these attacks. Why? Because if she were to make public statements, no matter if they were personal, they could be taken as the opinion of University Housing. So Deb, a naturally vocal person, must remain silent.
- Traegorn

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Please. An RA's room is their "government-provided office?" Then where do they live? RAs are not payed anywhere near enough to work 24 hours a day. There must be a time at which an RA's room is just that: their home.

Should an RA engage in a religious or political activity while he or she is on duty? No, because then they are on the clock. RAs are people too; they're not mindless automotons working 24 hours a day for Housing.

Whether you understand/like it or not, for people in many religions (for once again, this does reach beyond just Christianity), gathering together and discussing their religion is an important part of practicing their religion. Not allowing them to do so in their rooms violates their rights to practice religion.

And don't even bother with the "they can just go somewhere else" argument. They shouldn't have to. It's unfair to say that a certain group of university employees aren't allowed to practice their religion where they want.

And seriously, is ANYONE stupid enough to actually think that just because an RA practices a religion, that implies that Housing thinks said religion is better? That's just asinine.
I think everyone here is getting precisely, no more and no less, what they deserved. The policy was stupid. The lawsuit is an overreaction to a stupid policy that's going to make Lance and the Christian body politic on this campus look stupid, but may very well wind up making the University look like complete idiots. The whole thing is an egregious example of "viewpoint neutrality," the curse that's destroying this campus: the administration is trying to enforce the surreal idea that if we tell everyone that they can't practice their religions equally, that's the same as telling them they can practice any religion equally, but it doesn't get us in any trouble. Bullshit, my friends, bullshit. All this does, for me as a Christian, is remind me why I distrust authority implicitly.
Biedermann - there was never any policy against talking about religion. NONE. Merely one against an organized practice in their state provided office. Which it IS. Yes, it is their residence as well - and that's why they can hang a big ass cross on their wall if they want, and do whatever the heck they want - just not organize. We're dealing with a tricky issue, as an RA is always on call effectively when they are in the building. It's part of the job - and if a person isn't willing to balance their personal life with their community they shouldn't become and RA.

Biedermann, you really don't know what it's like to have people pushing their faith on you. For every RA that just wants to have a quiet study, there is one who wants to push it on others - and when it comes to the residence halls, where new students are already feeling uncomfortable away from home for the first time, the last thing they need is for the person that is supposed to help them acclimate to their new situation forcing their religion down their throat...

...and I know that from first hand experience.
I'm pretty disappointed with you resorting to the "you don't know what it's like to be a minority" line. It's such a cop-out. Do you remember the early days of the Flip Side? Do you remember how constantly I had to defent my religious view from the atheists, agnostics, and other non-Christians on that paper? I admit I don't know what it's like to go day-to-day in a minority role, but I know what it feels like to have people try and push their religious views on you.

For as much as you talk about people respecting your religion, you seem to have a really hard time respecting other people's right to practice their religion. If an RA is bugging people on their wing about the religious activity, there's a problem. If they simply post a notice somewhere that there is one, that shouldn't pressure anyone to become involved. If they feel that way, they're being overly sensitive.

Also, you should really quit framing this solely in terms of Christianity. It betrays your biases. This affects all religions. The fact that the debate has been framed in such a way in the local media is completely irresponsible. It's a domino effect: if one religion is prohibited from practicing their religion, the others eventually will be too. It's like that quote from the Holocaust, the author of whom my brain sadly cannot remember: the one about how he watched and said nothing as the rights of others where taken away, and then there was no one left to protest when they were taken away from him.

If this offends you, I apologize beforehand. It's my honest analysis of the situation.
Matt - it's a STATE provided OFFICE. There are limits on free expression within them. Plain and simple. If I were an RA, I wouldn't be able to hold a Wiccan study Circle there either. No one is being forced to stop practicing their religion either - so give it up. If I have to dig up the supreme court cases justifying limitations on first amendment rights, I will. I know several. Schenck v. US (1919) comes to mind, but that's free speech, not religion. The Free expression clause can be trumped by the Establishment clause - that has always been my stance, and it will remain so. My religion, your religion - it all remains out of state business.
And the only reason I've used the terms of Christianity is that 1. I was talking from personal experience, and Christianity (while on the whole I think is a pretty cool thing by the way) has been the only religion whose followers have given me problems - and 2. The lawsuit is about a Christian Bible Study in specific.

As for the second point - If it were about a Jewish group, I would have used those terms for those parts of reference. If it were about a Hindu group - I would have brought that up instead as best I could. But guess what, most of America self-identifies as Christian - so guess which religious affiliation is most likely to be the topic just based on the odds alone?
The lawsuit is retarded. I'm not even going to comment on that dumb shit. Filing a lawsuit after something has been changed (temporarily or not) is just cashing in. So that's not what I'm talking about.

You can use CAPS all you WANT, but you still haven't convinced me that it's a state-provided office. And if the problem is that they're employees of the state on state property, then why is it still ok for them to go to someone elses room and have one? Or to use a room in Davies for one. The same argument applies: a state employee on state property is practicing a religious activity.

The problem for me still lies in the fact that I fail to see the violation of the Establishment Clause. It seems like an over-application of what it's intended to defend against. The state isn't attempting to establish a religion; state employees are trying to practice theirs. I don't see how that could be construed as a violation.
It's their state provided office, as it is payed for by the state. An RA's room is considered their place of work specifically. They also cannot RUN a bible study in their own hall, but can ATTEND one. The difference is subtle, but important (I'm only using capitals for emphasis - it takes less time than busting out the HTML for italics). They can run a bible study anywhere else on campus - just not in their own hall.

As for the establishment clause, it seems fairly obvious to me - although you and I may read the constitution differently in this case. The RA is the voice of housing (and therefore the state) to new students. There is additional leeway on what's permissible in their room compared to what normal state employees would be allowed (as it is their residence as well), but you have to figure out where to draw the line, y'know? If it were just their residence - then yes, any form of worship should be allowed (barring what would otherwise be illegal of course). If it were purely their office, then I would say "No Brainer" as well, and say that very little beyond basic personal expression should be allowed -- but we have this bizarre mix with an RA's room, and you have to figure out where to draw the line.

This seems as good a place as any to me - placing it between personal expression of faith and what could be seen as an endorsement of religion. This is the best line we can draw, in my opinion.

But, again, like all things constitutional - much of it can differ purely on opinion.
I'm going to have to disagree with the author of this blog. As an RA of a freshman hall at a State school, I feel like I'm being discriminated against if I'm not allowed to do EVERYTHING that my religion may or may not require me to do. What if, for instance, as an adherent to my religion I was *required* to host a bible study in my home (which is MY ROOM, not an OFFICE.) to ensure my eternal salvation. I am not payed to be an RA 24 hours a day. I am only "payed" the equivalent of 15 hours a week at minimum wage. If they want to call our rooms offices, then they had better pay us minimum wage for ever single hour that we are in that office, including the overtime that would incure while I was sleeping in my bed.)

You also fail to address an issue which I think further complicates this rule. I have a non RA roommate. He is not an employee of the state and he pays for his room. What if we want to cohost a religious study? I would be denied that right and he would still get to do it? So the room is simultaniously my office of the state and his personal residence at the same time? I think not. Our rooms are our rooms. It's discriminating against our religion to take away our rights to host a religious study in our own rooms.

On a side note, most colleges have something like a "duty office" for RAs which are staffed by an RA every night (sometimes all day). I understand not being allowed to host a bible study while I am on duty in a *Duty Office*, but I damn well had better be allowed to host a bloody group excorcism in *my room* if I want to and my religion calls for it (regardless of whether or not the state decided to forgoe billing me for it).
None of you have ALL THE FACTS, so everything you are posting is mindless dribble that amounts to nothing.  Get a life and stop worrying about what everyone else is doing and stop criticising everything.  Your posts are a reflection of you and not of the people you are blathering about.  Spend your time doing positive things. 
...this is a seven year old post in a personal blog, and you're bothering to reply? That's kind of sad.

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