Wisconsin v. The Catholic Church
State Concludes Social Services Are Not Religious
By: Robert Tigner
Regulatory Counsel, The Nonprofit Alliance
An appellate court ruling in Wisconsin says social services delivered by a Catholic organization are not “religious.” It is difficult to understand how anyone could come to such a conclusion, whether a person of faith or not.
The case arose when Catholic Charities — Superior, Wisconsin affiliate — sought a statutory exemption from a state program. It is entitled to the exemption if it is “an organization operated primarily for religious purposes and operated, supervised, controlled, or principally supported by a church or convention or association of churches.”
Specifically, the court ruled that social services afforded by the Catholic Church are not “primarily religious” and, therefore, the Church did not meet the exemption test. It came to that bizarre conclusion, possibly, by observing that the social services provided are also provided by secular agencies. This misses the point because it leaves the reason services are provided out of the equation.
A petition to the Wisconsin Supreme Court for review — supported by the Wisconsin Catholic Conference — was granted in April. The case will be presented by lawyers from Becket Law, a D.C. nonprofit defending religious freedom for all. The case is currently being briefed and will be argued this year. TNPA will keep you informed.
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