FFRF Action Fund supports Wis. bill protecting students from sexual harassment


The FFRF Action Fund, the lobbying arm of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, is calling on Wisconsin lawmakers to pass into law a bill closing an existing loophole that allows teachers and school administrators to sexually harass students with no legal repercussions.

Under current law, schools are liable for sexual harassment if school officials harass their employees or co-workers. Yet the same conduct directed at students is legally permissible because students are not employees and the conduct is — maddeningly — not criminal. This led to a disturbing experience of abuse that Wisconsin former high school student Kerri Pingel brought to the attention of lawmakers at a hearing in August.

Pingel attended a Christian school in Kenosha where she reported that a school administrator repeatedly, and graphically, asked her about the details of her intimate encounters with her boyfriend, about her genitals, described in detail the school administrator’s own genitals, and overall exploited her vulnerability for the administrator’s own sexual gratification. When Pingel reported this conduct, she was advised that it was not actionable because, absent physical contact with the student, the conduct was not criminal.

AB 341/SB 333 is a strong bipartisan bill that seeks to change that. The bill makes it a Class I felony for a person who works or volunteers at a school to commit sexual misconduct against a student who is enrolled at that school. 

FFRF Action Fund Senior Policy Counsel Ryan Jayne submitted testimony yesterday, Oct. 11, in support of the bill:

“Wisconsin law leaves children unprotected,” Jayne wrote to the legislative committee considering the bill. “Protecting Wisconsin children should be a top priority of every lawmaker in this body. Voting in support of this bill would show that you stand with children and you stand to protect them from predators who prey upon their vulnerability. … Children cannot afford for lawmakers to stand idly by as predators expose this loophole to get away with what most Wisconsinites would already assume to be criminal activity.”

Closing the loophole is particularly important when unregulated private religious schools are involved, where students are uniquely susceptible to misconduct and abuse due to the lack of transparency and government oversight. The FFRF Action Fund encourages Wisconsinites to contact their representatives and urge them to support AB 341/SB 333, and is optimistic that Gov. Tony Evers will sign this much-needed bill into law.

FFRF Action Fund is a 501(c)(4) organization that develops and advocates for legislation, regulations, and government programs to preserve the constitutional principle of separation between state and church. It also advocates for the rights and views of nonbelievers, endorses candidates for political office, and publicizes the views of elected officials concerning religious liberty issues. FFRF Action Fund serves as the advocacy arm of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, which has more than 40,000 members and works to keep religion out of government and educate the public about nontheism.