In a letter addressed to University of Wisconsin System President Kevin Reilly last Tuesday, 10 Republican legislators requested further action regarding the resident assistant Bible-study ban, as announced in a weekend release.
Following a firestorm of controversy last fall when it was revealed the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire had banned RAs from holding Bible-study sessions in their residence halls, Reilly commissioned a task force to investigate the issue.
The RA Working Group consisted of representatives from all 13 of UW's four-year institutions, as well as one from UW Colleges.
The Working Group delivered its final recommendations to Reilly Jan. 11, which included five principles to be considered for a system-wide policy.
According to the legislators' letter, the Working Group's principles "are vague and do nothing to protect RAs' religious freedoms on UW campuses."
The letter went on to request that Reilly include in his final decision that "as long as the activity was safe, legal, voluntary, an RA could freely do as they please in the confines of their own room, or dormitory."
According to UW System spokesperson Doug Bradley, the committee's recommendations, as well as input from the public collected from a community-feedback website, will be considered in Reilly's decision.
The public-comment period ended last Friday. The website, Bradley said, saw a "flurry of activity" from students, faculty and community members, including a significant showing from out-of-state people interested in the issue.
President Reilly's final decision will be presented to the Board of Regents for consideration, which could occur as soon as March.
According to U.S. Rep. Mark Green, R-Wis., a policy change is necessary in order to ensure students' constitutional rights are upheld.
"This is about free-speech rights," Green said, "and I can honestly say that I would feel the same way if it was someone studying the Torah."
Some legislators, though, anticipate little change in the policy.
"I'm going to speculate that the university will simply cave in and not make a substantial change," said State Rep. Stephen Nass, R-Whitewater, one of the signing legislators. "What will probably happen is that they will come up with some other language that sounds a little different but is essentially the same."
According to the current policy at UW-Madison, RAs are not allowed to hold Bible-study sessions at their assigned residence halls; however, they are permitted to participate in or lead Bible studies at other residence-hall buildings.
Similarly, the policy at UW-Eau Claire also prohibits RAs from holding Bible studies in their buildings.
Policies at other UW campuses vary, and the legislators' letter calls for a more uniform policy.
Nass called the current policies "helter-skelter," and Green agreed, saying students' rights shouldn't vary depending on which college they attend.
Another problem with the current policy, according to Nass, is that it limits diversity on UW campuses. Noting recent policy changes which will reduce out-of-state tuition at most UW campuses in an effort to increase diversity in the UW System, Nass called for a policy change with the Bible-study ban for the same reason.
"So much for diversity on campus," Nass said. "They're saying it's only OK when it suits the university."
Bradley acknowledged the issue is a "balancing act" and said careful consideration is being given to "respecting the rights of all students."