Update: University of Wisconsin-Baraboo/Sauk County dean Dr. Tracy White said the following in a statement to TheBlaze:
"We have reviewed the matter, and we appreciate the dialogue that has involved the student, her family and the professor. We are not in a position to discuss the matter further, out of our need to respect the student’s privacy, in accordance with federal law. Our campus and classrooms are and always have been inclusive places that respect diverse backgrounds, viewpoints and the need to maintain the highest academic standards."
A Wisconsin college student is claiming that a professor threatened her with a failing grade unless she agreed to remove references to religion and the Bible from a PowerPoint presentation that was part of an assigned group project.
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Rachel Langeberg, a student at University of Wisconsin-Baraboo/Sauk County in Baraboo, Wisconsin, alleges through her attorneys at the Liberty Counsel, a conservative legal firm, that anthropology and sociology professor Dr. Annette Kuhlmann recently pushed back against her inclusion of faith themes and a Bible verse, calling these elements "inappropriate for [the] presentation."
"The University of Wisconsin is a secular institution. Religious contemplations and the bible [sic] belong to a different realm and not academic sources," Kuhlmann reportedly wrote while reviewing the project. "So your argumentation along Christian lines, including the slides you designed in relation to it, are [sic] inappropriate for this presentation."
The professor's purported comments went on to say that Langeberg would not be able to present the project about arson and its causes in her crime and criminal justice class unless these references were removed.
"You will also fail your presentation if your [sic] discuss religion in connection with it," Kuhlmann.
Here is the professor's full response, according to the Liberty Counsel:
- Starting with slide #9 you use religion and the bible [sic] as a source. While I can personally appreciate and respect your religious life we are living in a society that separates church and state; the University of Wisconsin is a secular institution. Religious contemplations and the bible belong to a different realm and not academic sources. So your argumentation along Christian lines, including the slides you designed in relation to it, are inappropriate for this presentation. I will not allow you to present unless you change this. You will also fail your presentation if your [sic] discuss religion in connection with it.
- Through several discussions Rachel is very well aware of these boundaries and it is disturbing that you do not abide by it
Scared that she would negatively impact her group members' grades if she refused to back down, Langeberg decided to change the assignment to remove the Christian references.
That said, the student claims that she met with the professor and a dean to discuss the matter, but that they were unable to resolve it, so she reached out to the Liberty Counsel for assistance.
Richard Mast, an attorney with the firm, said in a statement that he believes the professor's comments "crossed the line from scholarship to censorship," adding that he believes this is a clear-cut free speech issue.
"Students do not lose their First Amendment rights when they sign up for classes at the University of Wisconsin," he said. "It is blatantly unconstitutional to restrict student religious speech or threaten a failing grade for religious content, where the speech or content is otherwise academically appropriate for the assignment."
According to the Liberty Counsel's letter, the assignment was to highlight the causes of arson, with Langeberg including sociological causes, while also including biblical explanations, including the notion of "sin" as well as a person who is internally "bent" to do wrong.
The professor reportedly later said that the biblical inclusions were not permissible due to the fact that they were not peer reviewed, though the Liberty Counsel said in its letter that the syllabus never outlined that requirement.
The Liberty Counsel is demanding that the professor remedy her "unconstitutional hostility" by writing an email apology to Langeberg and her group members, as well as sending an email to the entire class that includes the original PowerPoint, indicating that she made a mistake.
The university has until July 3 to respond, with the Liberty Counsel pledging to take further action if officials do not remedy the situation.
A request for comment from Kuhlmann has not yet been returned to TheBlaze.
Front page image via Shutterstock.com.