Monday, November 14, 2005

Real Wisconsin Cheeseheads

One of the more worrisome ideological developments of the last fifty years has been the increasing intolerance of religious expression among those who call themselves liberals. The University of Wisconsin has a reputation as one of the most liberal schools in the nation, and it's also, apparently, one of the most intolerant of individual religious liberty.

Even though the events described in this article are troubling, it is amusing to see how the champions of personal liberty tie themselves in logical pretzels trying to justify their censorship:

Every Tuesday last school year, Lance Steiger took a Bible to the basement of his dormitory at UW-Eau Claire and led a small group of friends in a discussion about a particular chapter or verse. Steiger, a resident assistant and a junior at the time, said he was never told he could not lead a Bible study in the dorm where he worked helping students adjust to college classes and campus life.

But in July, he got a letter from school administrators warning him that if he continued to hold Bible studies in his dorm this year, he would face disciplinary action. The issue has spawned a flurry of heated exchanges between Steiger, school officials, civil liberties groups, and at least one U.S. representative who on Thursday called the university's position "outrageous and un-American."

The university forbids resident assistants from hosting religious or political activities in the dorms where they work to ensure that R.A.'s are accessible to all students, said spokesman Mike Rindo. Resident assistants are essentially state employees. They receive free room and board and a $675-per-semester stipend in exchange for nurturing and counseling dorm residents. "R.A.s are free to engage in these activities as long as they are not doing it in an environment where they have supervisory roles over other students," Rindo said.

In a Sept. 22 e-mail to Steiger, Deborah Newman, associate director of housing and residence life, elaborated on the university's position. "As a state employee, you and I have a responsibility to make sure we are providing an environment that does not put undue pressure on any member of our halls in terms of religion, political parties, etc.," Newman wrote. "As a 'leader' of a Bible study, one of the roles is to gather and encourage people to attend. These two roles have a strong possibility to conflict in your hall."

The university's position is backed by a similar written policy at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and is supported by the Freedom from Religion Foundation in Madison. "There's free speech, but this isn't free," said Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the Freedom from Religion Foundation. "This amounts to taxpayer subsidy of worship."

Chris Ahmuty, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin, said his organization is looking into the issue. Ahmuty agreed with the university's position that state employees should not be organizing religious or political events on work time or place. "The function of the R.A. is almost like a big brother or big sister," Ahmuty said. "When they're in the dorm they're an R.A. 24/7. . . . This isn't like a jail situation where students have no other alternative. They can go off campus."

Only a handful of the school's 120 resident assistants have been hosting Bible studies in the dorms, Rindo said. Steiger said he knows of more than 10 who either hold a class in their room or elsewhere in dorms. The school's policy, which also applies to political and ideological activities, is communicated to new resident assistants during a verbal orientation and is not in writing, Rindo said.

Steiger sees the ban as an infringement on his First Amendment rights. "I work for the school. It's my job, but I do have personal time. I should be able to talk about whatever I want to talk about in my own room. It's my home. It's where I live."

Steiger sought help with his cause from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, a Philadelphia-based non-profit organization that defends freedom of speech, religious liberty and other rights. The organization sent a letter Oct. 10 to UW-Eau Claire's interim chancellor, Vicki Lord Larson, calling the ban on R.A.-led Bible studies unlawful and an "immoral restriction of religious liberty."

"Unless they're on the clock 168 hours a week, which they're not, they have dual capacity as do all state employees," said David French, president of the foundation. "They have private lives. . . . We're not talking about Bible studies as part of an official R.A. function. We're talking about on their own time a function that is completely optional."

The issue caught the attention Thursday of U.S. Rep. Mark Green (R-Green Bay), a UW-Eau Claire alumnus. Green wrote a letter to UW System president Kevin Reilly urging him to investigate policies at other University of Wisconsin campuses and to "rid the UW system of this deplorable mandate."

"The question is are we going to follow them when they go to bars? Are we going to conduct room-to-room searches to make sure nobody is praying?" Green said in an interview. "They do not surrender their Constitutional rights just because they're R.A.'s."

UW-Eau Claire officials said they are examining past and current policies and will respond to Steiger's complaint in the coming weeks.

Would all those lawyers and paper pushers who think it appropriate to deny Mr. Steiger the right to meet with fellow students to study the Bible also think it appropriate to deny him the right to meet with fellow students to study Marx or Mao? Would they argue that teachers in public schools should not be permitted to lead a Bible study on school property before school hours? Would they say that congressional Bible studies open to staffers are beyond the pale of constitutional liberties? If R.A.'s can't be ideologically active because they're school employees in a supervisory position over students, does the university hold its faculty to the same standard? It's rather doubtful, isn't it? Yet the case of Mr. Steiger is not substantively different than any of these.

The university policy is so intrusive, so utterly stupid, that one despairs when reflecting upon the fact that these people are administering a major educational institution. Hopefully, Mr. Steiger will take his case all the way to the Supreme Court, if need be, and the rest of the country will see what ninnys run the University of Wisconsin and what kind of a world liberals would create if, God forbid, they should ever have the power.

Senatorial Nincompoopery

Yet another Democrat comes across on the Sunday talk shows sounding like a nitwit. This time it was Senator Jay Rockefeller on Fox News Sunday. Read this astonishing exchange with Chris Wallace:

WALLACE: Senator Rockefeller, the President says that Democratic critics, like you, looked at pre-war intelligence and came to the same conclusion that he did. In fact, looking back at the speech that you gave in October of 2002 in which you authorized the use of force, you went further than the President ever did. Let's watch.

SEN. ROCKEFELLER (October 10, 2002): "I do believe that Iraq poses an imminent threat, but I also believe that after September 11th, that question is increasingly outdated."

WALLACE: Now, the President never said that Saddam Hussein was an imminent threat. As you saw, you did say that. If anyone hyped the intelligence, isn't it Jay Rockefeller?

SEN. ROCKEFELLER: No. The - I mean, this question is asked a thousand times and I'll be happy to answer it a thousand times. I took a trip by myself in January of 2002 to Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Syria, and I told each of the heads of state that it was my view that George Bush had already made up his mind to go to war against Iraq - that that was a predetermined set course which had taken shape shortly after 9/11. Now, the intelligence that they had and the intelligence that we had were probably different. We didn't get the Presidential Daily Briefs. We got only a finished product, a finished product, a consensual view of the intelligence community, which does not allow for agencies like in the case of the aluminum tubes, the Department of Energy said these aren't thick enough to handle nuclear power. They left that out and went ahead with they have aluminum tubes and they're going to develop nuclear power.

In other words, he thought Iraq posed an imminent threat because he thought George Bush had already made up his mind to go to war. Besides, he was only privy to the consensus view of the intelligence agencies about Saddam's intentions. If he'd have known some of the minority views then he would not have said that Iraq poses an imminent threat. To the extent that this is intelligible does it sound weasly, or what?

WALLACE: Senator, you're quite right. You didn't get the Presidential Daily Brief or the Senior Executive Intelligence Brief. You got the National Intelligence Estimate. But the Silberman Commission, a Presidential commission that looked into this, did get copies of those briefs, and they say that they were, if anything, even more alarmist, even less nuanced than the intelligence you saw, and yet you, not the President, said that Saddam Hussein was an imminent threat.

SEN. ROCKEFELLER: The Silberman Commission was absolutely prohibited by the President in his charge to them - he appointed them - from ever looking at the use of intelligence, whether it was misused, whether it was massaged to influence the American people to go along with a decision which he had long ago already decided to make.

You'll have to decipher this. I don't know what question Sen. Rockefeller is answering, but it's sure not the one Wallace was implying.

WALLACE: But didn't they come to that conclusion which I just stated, that the Presidential Daily Brief was in fact more alarmist and less nuanced than the intelligence you saw?

SEN. ROCKEFELLER: I don't know, because I never get to see, nor does Pat, the Presidential Daily Brief. All I know is that we don't get the intelligence that they do. We are called the Senate Intelligence Committee. We get a lot more than the rest of the Senate, but it was incomplete as to what the President gets, and it was obviously entirely wrong, which raises the question, why was it wrong?

There's no question here, Senator. It was wrong because, sing it with me now: Bush lied, people died.

WALLACE: Senator Rockefeller, I want to play another clip from your 2002 speech authorizing the use of force, this time specifically on the question of Saddam's nuclear program. Here it is.

SEN. ROCKEFELLER (October 10, 2002): "There is unmistakable evidence that Saddam Hussein is working aggressively to develop nuclear weapons. And will likely have nuclear weapons within the next five years and he could have it earlier."

WALLACE: Now, by that point, Senator, you had read the National Intelligence Estimate, correct?

SEN. ROCKEFELLER: In fact, there were only six people in the Senate who did, and I was one of them. I'm sure Pat was another.

WALLACE: Okay, but you had read that, and now we've read a declassified ...

SEN. ROCKEFELLER: But Chris, let's a...

WALLACE: Can I just ask my question sir, and then you can answer as you choose. That report indicated there was an agreement - a disagreement among analysts about the nuclear program. The State Department had a lot more doubts than the CIA did about whether he was pursuing a nuclear program. You never mentioned those doubts. You came to the same conclusion the President did.

Oops. So even when Senator Rockefeller has seen the documents that reveal dissenting views among analysts he still asserts that "There is unmistakable evidence that Saddam Hussein is working aggressively to develop nuclear weapons. And will likely have nuclear weapons within the next five years and he could have it earlier." He must have been very convinced by what he saw. Unshakeably convinced.

SEN. ROCKEFELLER: Because that - first of all, that National Intelligence Estimate was not called for by the Administration. It was called for by former Senator Bob Graham, Chairman of the Intelligence Committee, and Dick Durbin. We didn't receive it until just a couple of days before we voted. Then we had to go read it and compare it to everything else that we thought we'd learned about intelligence, and I did make that statement. And I did make that vote. But, Chris, the important thing is that when I started looking at the weapons of mass destruction intelligence along with Pat Roberts, I went down to the floor, and I said I made a mistake. I would have never voted yes if I knew what I know today.

Of course not. If he had known then that Chris Wallace was going to throw this all back in his face and make him look like a simpleton on national television he certainly wouldn't have voted the way he did.

WALLACE: But a lot of people - that's not the point of the investigation, Senator.

SEN. ROCKEFELLER: Chris, there's always the same conversation. You know it was not the Congress that sent 135,000 or 150,000 troops.

Since the Senate voted to authorize the use of force but didn't actually send the troops, why, then, its not the Senate's fault that we're at war. No sir. Bush sent those troops, not the senators who were beguiled by that evil Karl Rove into voting to authorize their deployment.

WALLACE: But you voted, sir, and aren't you responsible for your vote?


This is a cry for help. Please stop me before I vote again. I can't help myself. I know I shouldn't vote this way, but Karl Rove has cast a spell on me.

WALLACE: You're not [responsible]?

SEN. ROCKEFELLER: No. I'm responsible for my vote, but I'd appreciate it if you'd get serious about this subject, with all due respect. We authorized him to continue working with the United Nations, and then if that failed, authorized him to use force to enforce the sanctions. We did not send 150,000 troops or 135,000 troops. It was his decision made probably two days after 9/11 that he was going to invade Iraq. That we did not have a part of, and, yes, we had bad intelligence, and when we learned about it, I went down to the floor and said I would never have voted for this thing.

We are witnessing a United States Senator lose his grip on sanity here. The poor man (if a Rockefeller can be appropriately called "poor") is so desperate to dissociate himself from his record, and to pin the blame elsewhere, that he is devolving into incoherence.

WALLACE: My only point sir, and I am trying to be serious about it, is as I understand Phase Two, the question is based on the intelligence you had, what were the statements you made? You had the National Intelligence Estimate which expressed doubts about Saddam's nuclear program, and yet you said he had a nuclear program. The President did the same thing.

Precisely. But when the esteemed nutjob senator does it he's "misled" by bad intelligence. When the Republican president acts similarly, on that same intelligence, he's "lying to the American people." Tell me, are there any intellectual qualifications to being a Democratic senator?

The Democratic strategy seems to be that, rather than try to offer a clear and cogent defense of one's position, a Democrat should overwhelm the questioner with so much muddleheaded mumbo-jumbo that the interviewer simply wears down and gives up. For some, perhaps, it's a conscious strategy that they have to work at. For Senator Rockefeller it seems to just come naturally.

Altogether now, one more time: Bush lied, people died....