Discrimination Against Religion at the University of Wisconsin, Eau Claire
MADISON, Wis. – Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys filed a lawsuit in federal court Thursday on behalf of two students at the University of Wisconsin–Eau Claire who are being denied credit for mandatory community service simply because their activities involved religion. Under the policy, a student can, for example, earn credit for teaching unless the teaching involves religious instruction, or singing in a choir unless the choir is religious.Although Supreme Court precedents on government and religion are a mess, nothing in the Constitution requires any government body to discriminate against religion. When they do that, it shows their anti-religious bias, not any sort of respect for the Constitution.
“No public university should ever use a community service program as a vehicle to advance and instill anti-religious bias,” said ADF Legal Counsel Travis Barham. “If the University of Wisconsin–Eau Claire wants to require its students to perform community service, it must treat all forms of community service as equally valuable. The Constitution and federal court precedent prohibit it from targeting religious community service and denying students credit for it. That kind of animosity toward and discrimination against religion is unconstitutional.”
In the spring, student Alexandra Liebl sought to obtain service-learning credit for the 30 hours she spent volunteering with a second-grade religious education class at a local Roman Catholic church. University officials denied her request, citing the university’s Service-Learning Policy. Upon hearing of this decision and others like it, another student, Madelyn Rysavy, realized that she would not receive credit for the approximately 24 hours she spent volunteering in the same church’s Sunday School classes; therefore, she has yet to submit those hours for credit but would like to have them approved.
Although the Service-Learning Policy explains that “students’ sincerely held beliefs, preferences, and values will be reasonably accommodated in accepting service-learning proposals” and that “acceptance of a service-learning proposal…does not imply endorsement either of the proposed activities or of the recipient by the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire,” the policy nonetheless unconstitutionally singles out religious beliefs, preferences, and values for exclusion by specifying that “this public university will not award credit for time spent directly involved in promoting religious doctrine, proselytizing, or worship.”
As for “promoting religious doctrine, proselytizing, or worship:” are students allowed to “promote” anything else? Would they get credit, for example, for working for an environmentalist group “promoting awareness” of “climate change?” Suppose an organization was not involved in “worship” but rather Transcendental Meditation? The answers are obvious.
If they were working in a program teaching some secular subject, of course credit would be allowed. Credit would doubtless be allowed for volunteering with a local LGBT center, even if the operation worked to flatly contradict children’s religious beliefs. And “accommodating” students’ “sincerely held beliefs” would doubtless be automatic if those beliefs were of a more politically correct sort.