FFRF halts the sermonizing of a Wisconsin community college instructor

1MATCA sermonizing Wisconsin community college professor has agreed to mend his ways following the Freedom From Religion Foundation’s intervention.

Madison College Professor Hiep S. Van Dong, an instructor in the School of Business and Applied Arts, had been encouraging students in his Leadership, Ethics and Development course to add religion to their lives, both verbally in class and via email. Van Dong explained to a student in an email that he has “discovered it isn’t about do’s and don’ts, it is about a personal relationship with a living God. It is not about earning my way to heaven or God’s grace; however, it is about seeking a personable Creator and sustainer of my life.” Van Dong also used “Sometimes You Win, Sometimes You Learn,” a religion-promoting tome by John C. Maxwell, an evangelical pastor, as a textbook. Dong had reportedly solicited the entire class to contact him personally about the “truth” in the book, stating that he “could not say it in class, given it is a public university.”

Van Dong’s promotion of religion constituted an official endorsement and advancement of religion in violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, FFRF pointed out to Madison College.

“Federal courts have upheld public universities’ restrictions on a professor’s religious expression in the classroom and other like settings,” FFRF Legal Fellow Ryan Jayne wrote last month to Madison College School of Business and Applied Arts Dean Bryan Woodhouse. “These restrictions do not abridge the professor’s free speech rights.”

Woodhouse recently responded that he had conducted an inquiry and had asked Van Dong to modify his teaching approach.

“Instructor Van Dong and I have discussed that as public servants we cannot take a position of any kind for or against religion, and that our classrooms are filled with persons of all perspectives and that we have a great responsibility to maintain a classroom environment that welcomes all opinions,” Woodhouse wrote back. “We are in firm agreement on this position, and Instructor Van Dong has submitted that he does not and will not encourage religion in the classroom as part of this or any other course that may be assigned.”

Woodhouse added that John C. Maxwell’s religion-infused work “Sometimes You Win, Sometimes You Learn” was a textbook for the class for personal development and that students will be cued through a disclaimer to request alternative readings.

FFRF is appreciative of the measures that Madison College took in response to its letter.

“It’s good that Madison College did the right thing,” says FFRF Co-President Dan Barker. “We hope that it will ensure all its instructors adhere to its policy.”

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a Madison, Wis.-based national state/church watchdog organization with almost 24,000 nonreligious members all over the country, including more than 1,300 in Wisconsin.


Freedom From Religion Foundation

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