Monday, September 6, 2010

Alliance Defense Fund wins another case for freedom of religious expression

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit in a 2-1 ruling said that the University of Wisconsin at Madison improperly denied funding for a Roman Catholic student group, imposing unconstitutional limits on activities involving worship. They (UW) violated the First Amendment.

ADF had filed suit on behalf of Badger Catholic, formerly known as the Roman Catholic Foundation.  Senior Counsel Jordan Lorence explained:

"A university can define the kind of extracurricular activity that it chooses to promote, reimbursing, say, a student-run series of silent movies and a debate team, while leaving counseling to the student-health service that the university operates itself. But the University of Wisconsin has chosen to pay for student-led counseling, and its decision to exclude counseling that features prayer is forbidden."

Once a university allows any category of student activity to receive support, it can't bar support for that activity just because it may involve worship. Judge Frank H. Easterbrook wrote:

“The constitutional rights of Christian student organizations should be recognized by university officials just as they recognize those rights for other student groups. The university funded the advocacy and expression of other student organizations but singled out Badger Catholic for exclusion based purely upon its viewpoint. The 7th Circuit rightly regarded this as unconstitutional.”

Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State,  acted concerned for the safety of religious freedom in our country and called the decision dangerous:

"Activities like evangelism, prayer, and worship should always be supported with funds given voluntarily. For a long time, this was a central principle of church-state law. In recent years, courts have drifted from this concept, much to the detriment of religious freedom. Whether university-based or not, religious groups should pay their own way. Any other system smacks of a church tax."
However, it is hardly true that dispensing fees to Badger Catholic group imparts an endorsement of religion. The panel said as much in their conclusion:

“The University of Wisconsin is not propagating its own message; it has created a public forum where the students, not the University, decide what is to be said. And having created a public forum, the University must honor the private choice…. (A) university cannot shape Badger Catholic’s message by selectively funding the speech it approves, but not the speech it disapproves. Once it creates a public forum, a university must accept all comers within the forum’s scope.”

Let Us Pray. Almighty God, thank you for the work of The Alliance Defense Fund and for their recent win defending Badger Catholic against the University of Wisconsin-Madison.  The UW tried to show unconstitutional discrimination by not giving Badger Catholic funding because they were a religious student group. We thank God that the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals sided with the Constitution and restored their funding. Now we ask for Your continued blessing on those who stand for what is right. From Proverbs 21:21, he who pursues righteousness and love, finds life, prosperity and honor, in Jesus Name, Amen.
Prayer adapted from CHAPS
Badger Catholic v. Walsh, court decision.   Alliance Defense Fund News Release
Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him. 
James 1:12, NIV

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