Shortly after Lance Steiger became a resident assistant (RA), he began a Bible study in his dorm room for interested students. For four semesters, this Bible study continued without incident until one day in June 2005 when University of Wisconsin at Eau Claire (UW-Eau Claire) officials informed him by letter that this violated their policies and that he would be subjected to “disciplinary action” if he continued.
University officials explained that, as an RA, he could not lead or organize a Bible study in the dorms. But they regularly allowed RAs to hold official dorm functions where students discussed other topics, such as feminism, helping the poor, sexual issues, and diversity-related topics.
When Lance received the June 2005 letter, he contacted the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE). FIRE then wrote a letter to UW-Eau Claire, explaining that its ban on Bible studies was unconstitutional. When the University responded, it defended its policy and even expanded it to prohibit “RAs from leading, organizing[,] or recruiting students for student organizations or activities within the residence halls in which they work.”
When the University refused to eliminate its ban on RAs holding Bible studies in the dorms, Alliance Defending Freedom filed suit on behalf of Lance in November 2005. Within a few months, UW-Eau Claire agreed to revise its policies to allow RAs to “participate in, organize, and lead any meetings or other activities”—including Bible studies—“within their rooms, floors or residence halls, or anywhere else on campus, to the same extent as other students.” To settle the case, the University also agreed to pay a symbolic damages award to Lance, as well as his attorneys’ fees and costs.
What's at stake
The right of Christian students to hold Bible studies in their dorm rooms
The right of religious students to express, share, and exercise their faith freely on campus
The right of university students to express their views, including their religious views, freely on campus even if others find those views “offensive”
Our role in this case
Alliance Defending Freedom and our allied attorney Michael Dean represented Lance, defending his right to express his faith freely in his dorm room through his Bible study.