Students Barred from Fulfilling Service Requirement with Religious Activity

The University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire has adopted a policy that prohibits students from performing their required community service in a religious context. Students must complete 30 hours of volunteer work to graduate, but the new policy prevents them from using any religious activity to fulfill the requirement.

A university committee and the faculty senate at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire have approved the policy. Under its guidelines, UW students will no longer be allowed to teach in vacation Bible schools or churches, or in any way to conduct, recruit for, or preach religion in order to meet the terms of the 30-hour requirement.

Volunteer projects requiring religious membership would also be disqualified. The school's administrators claim they have adopted the new policy in the interest of maintaining the so-called “separation of church and state” mandated in the Establishment Clause of the Constitution of the United States.

However, Jay Anderson of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship says it is not unconstitutional for the school to recognize religious community service. “Students would be participating willingly of their own accord,” he says. “No one's forcing them to choose a religious option for their service learning credit. And no one is forcing the participants in the vacation Bible school or the Sunday school class to participate.”

According to Anderson, recognizing student volunteer service done in a religious context does not by any means violate the Establishment Clause. Since students are not forced to perform religious-based community service, he says the university would not be endorsing a specific religion by allowing such recognition.

What the UW-Eau Claire policy does do, the campus InterVarsity representative contends, is undermine the students' right to religious freedom by refusing to recognize their volunteer service in religious milieu. He feels the university officials are acting under a faulty interpretation of the US Constitution and may be violating the First Amendment by implementing the restrictive policy.

“From my perspective it is an abridgement of our rights to freely express our religion,” Anderson says. “I don't think that there's any sort of conspiracy or grand underground plan to keep InterVarsity and other group off campus, but I do think the people involved have a bias against religion and perhaps Christianity in particular.”

According to Janesville's, UW-Eau Claire senior Jesse Navara volunteered for Awana Clubs International, a Christian organization that conducts youth groups, and was given only partial credit toward his service-learning requirement because his activities included Bible lessons. Navara told the Gazette he was “disappointed” and feels the university's policy is a form of religious discrimination.

(This article courtesy of Agape Press).

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