Freethought Today · September 2016

Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc.

FFRF objects to sermonizing prof

FFRF is raising objections to a Wisconsin community college professor who tells students that life is about creating a personal relationship with God.

Madison College Professor Hiep S. Van Dong, an instructor in the School of Business and Applied Arts, has encouraged 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 uses "Sometimes You Win, Sometimes You Learn," a religion-promoting tome by John C. Maxwell, an evangelical pastor, as a textbook. Van Dong has 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 constitutes an official endorsement and advancement of religion in violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

"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 writes to Madison College School of Business and Applied Arts Dean Bryan Woodhouse. "These restrictions do not abridge the professor's free speech rights."

Madison College's interest in avoiding the appearance of official endorsement of Van Dong's religious beliefs overrides his free speech rights in this matter, FFRF contends.

"Such blatant religiosity has no place in a public institution," says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. "Madison College needs to put a check on Van Dong's religious activities in class."

FFRF is asking Madison College to take immediate action to ensure that Van Dong is not misusing his position.

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