A state university is backing down on a community service policy that discriminated against Christians.
The University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire requires students to perform 30 hours of “service-learning” or community service to graduate. But last year, the university told Alexandra Liebl she had not fulfilled her requirement because she chose to volunteer as a religious education teaching assistant at her local Catholic church.
It’s one of a number of cases in which universities have decided to back down on discriminatory policies.
Speaking at Liberty University’s commencement in May, President Trump made it plain his administration plans to set a new tone regarding the government’s view of Christianity.
“America is better when people put their faith into action,” Trump said. “As long as I am your president no one is ever going to stop you from practicing your faith or from preaching what’s in your heart. We will always stand up for the right of all Americans to pray to God and to follow his teachings.”
At the UW-Eau Claire, Liebl’s case was handled by the Alliance Defending Freedom, which sent a letter to university officials advising them that their policy violates the First Amendment right of the free exercise of religion.
“Today’s college students will be tomorrow’s legislators, judges, commissioners and voters. That’s why it’s so important that public universities model the First Amendment values they are supposed to be teaching to students,” said ADF Senior Counsel Casey Mattox, director of the Center for Academic Freedom.
“Christians are not second-class citizens. UW-Eau Claire should be commended for changing its policies to eliminate this discrimination against religious students,” he said.
The university website says: “Service-Learning is an opportunity for students at UW-Eau Claire to give back to the local community, or their home community. It provides a way to learn skills, investigate careers and build a personal network. Service-Learning makes education a collaborative effort; students benefit society by exercising the rights and responsibilities of citizenship.”
The website provides examples such as “Performing Service Through Dance,” working at a local food bank, helping fight cancer and working with a “political watch group.”
The university argued the service requirement does not apply to “time spent involved in promoting religious doctrine, proselytizing, or worship.”
Critics, however, argue the terms are vague and could refer to any kind of teaching about religion or teaching in a religious setting.
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines proselytizing as “to induce someone to convert to one’s faith; to recruit someone to join one’s party, institution, or cause.”
The definition would include a Christian sharing his faith, no matter how benign the approach might be.
ADF Legal Counsel Travis Barham commended the university “for acknowledging that it cannot apply a double standard in evaluating which students should receive credit in this mandatory program.”
“If it wants to require its students to perform community service, it must treat all forms of it as equally valuable,” he said. “The Constitution prohibits public officials from targeting religious community service and treating it less favorably than other kinds.”
‘Not the place for religion’
In 2015, the American Center for Law and Justice defended two students who were denied admission to the Radiation Therapy Program at the Community College of Baltimore County because they professed belief in God.
One student, Brandon, was denied admission because when asked in an admissions interview what was the most important thing in his life, he replied simply, “My God.”
The director, Adrienne Dougherty, informed Brandon, “I understand that religion is a major part of your life … however, this field is not the place for religion.”
“If you interview in the future, you may want to leave your thoughts and beliefs out of the interview process,” the director said.
The other student, Dustin, was asked by Dougherty to describe the guiding principle in his life. Dustin replied, “My faith.” As a result, Dougherty gave Justin a low score because he “also brought up religion a great deal during the interview.”
When the college was notified by ACLJ of its discriminatory conduct, it doubled down by placing a hold on Dustin’s account, prohibiting him from taking any classes.
In January, Missouri State University dismissed Andrew Cash from its counseling program after he expressed his support for traditional marriage, WND reported.
Cash, according to a lawsuit filed by the Thomas More Society, “was targeted and punished for expressing his Christian worldview regarding a hypothetical situation concerning whether he would provide counseling services to a gay/homosexual couple.”
“Since he did not give the ‘correct’ answer required by his counseling instructors, he was considered unsuitable for counseling and terminated from the program,” the lawsuit alleged.
The school eventually settled, paying cash $25,000, the cost of his estimated tuition for finishing his master’s from another university.
The University of Missouri paid a similar amount in 2006 to Emily Brooker, who accused the school of violating her First Amendment rights when she refused to sign a letter supporting same-sex adoption.
At Eastern Michigan University, Julea Ward was expelled from the university’s counseling program after she refused to lay aside her personal religious beliefs and support the homosexual lifestyle.
Ward, a Southfield public-school teacher, was seeking her graduate degree in counseling. As part of the process, she was assigned to counsel an individual seeking help with his homosexual relationship. Prior to meeting with the client, Ward met with her supervisor and advised that she could not counsel in a way that affirmed the homosexual relationship, but she was more than willing to work with any other issues the patient had.
She then followed her supervisor’s instructions to refer the patient to another counselor, the standard procedure in cases in which counselors conclude they cannot be objective. However, rather than praise her for being honest, she was immediately investigated by an academic committee and eventually expelled, despite having a 3.91 GPA and being only months away from graduation.
Just this year, a pro-LGBTQ teacher told students in her classroom in Hillsborough County Public Schools in Tampa, Florida, that they were forbidden from wearing cross necklaces in her classroom.
WND reported the teacher placed LGBT stickers on the notebooks her class uses. Her lesbian partner, also a teacher, “dressed as a nun for a school spirit week, complete with a ‘cross necklace’ made of skulls,’ and she singled out students for “false ‘misbehavior’ allegations” after they removed the LGBT stickers.
In 2013, a Florida Atlantic University student was expelled after he refused a professor’s instruction to write the name Jesus on a piece of paper and then stomp on it as part of a classroom exercise.
Ryan Rotela, a devout Mormon, said he was expelled after telling an FAU official the exercise made him uncomfortable. The university defended the suspension, telling a local CBS affiliate that the lesson was found in the textbook “Intercultural Communication: A Contextual Approach, 5th Edition.”