For more than a century, the Catholic Charities Bureau of Superior, Wis., has helped people of all faiths: people with developmental disabilities, the elderly, and children, many of them low-income. As the Archbishop of Milwaukee, Jerome Listecki, recently noted, since the time of Jesus Christ the Church has had “a mandate from Scripture to serve the poor.”
The State of Wisconsin disagrees. Its division of labor has ruled that the charity is not eligible for a religious exemption from contributing to the state unemployment insurance system because it offers its services without proselytizing, regardless of religious affiliation. client. As a result, the Wisconsin Labor and Industry Review Board determined that it was essentially a secular organization, not operated for “primarily religious purposes.”
RELATED: Report: Biden’s Department of Defense sent cease and desist letter to Catholic Church providing pastoral care to veterans during Holy Week
The charity’s appeal, which argues that the state itself determines what activities do or do not fall under religious obligation, looms as a possible turning point for religious freedom. Proceedings open May 18 in the Wisconsin Supreme Court – ahead of the August swearing-in of judge-elect Janet Protasiewicz, a progressive who will give the court a 4-3 left tilt after an expensive, large-scale election this spring to replace a curator. A close observer of the case said it seems likely it will be heard in the fall, after Protasiewicz is sworn in.
Daniel Vitagliano of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, representing the charity, said the state presumes to interpret church canon and internal church policies, to determine for itself which services fall under principles of a religious faith. It’s an idea that the Wisconsin Supreme Court previously rejected in a 1995 decision, Pritzlaff v. the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.
“Saying the Catholic Charities Bureau isn’t religious is like saying the Milwaukee Bucks aren’t a basketball team,” Vitagliano said. “It’s as absurd as it sounds. The Wisconsin Supreme Court should step in and correct the lower court’s error.
Wisconsin isn’t the only government challenging religious groups, and those challenged aren’t clearly on one side of the political spectrum. Texas is wear down on groups he suspects of aiding illegal border crossings. Similarly, four Republican members of Congress accuse Catholic Charities USA to support illegal border crossings, threatening to open an investigation. Catholic charities United States denied the allegations, noting that the federal government determines who enters the country and that the charity’s humanitarian care (“food, clean clothing, bathing facilities, overnight respite”) is generally provided after treatment and liberation of migrants.
Opposition to a rule proposed in January by Biden’s Department of Health and Human Services is also causing concern at the federal level. According to two lawyers from Notre-Dame opposing in a Wall Street Journal Editorialthe rule “would be require religious hospitals and doctors to perform deeply contested procedures — including abortion and “gender transition” surgery — even though two federal appeals courts have thrown out similar regulations on religious freedom grounds. The article also said “this proposal, and anotherwould also reduce conscience protections, forcing care providers to choose between their professional obligations and their faith.
RELATED: Incredible Poll Shows American Values Are Dying, and Fast
In each case, the concerns revolve around this question: to what extent can religious organizations manage their own personnel according to the precepts of their faith?
“It’s not about bringing in a fire marshal and telling you how many people you can seat on a Sunday,” said Daniel Suhr, an attorney who filed an amicus brief with the Wisconsin Supreme Court. in support of the Becket petition, on behalf of a coalition of Protestant educational institutions. “It’s a lot more tangled than that.”
Since 1986, the Catholic Church in Wisconsin has offered its own unemployment insurance, the Church Unemployment Pay Program (CUPP), to lay employees of its institutions, such as schools and parishes. But the Catholic Charities Bureau is not covered and is contribute to the state program. SState agencies have continued to deny religious exemption to the Bureau and several of its sub-entities, even after a 2016 circuit court ruling granted a religious exemption to a Bureau sub-entity that serves the people with intellectual disabilities. The case reached the state high court after a series of reversals by lower courts.
The Office states on its website that its mission is “[t]o to continue the redemptive work of our Lord by reflecting the values of the Gospel and the moral teaching of the Church” and “[t]o Collaborate with all people of good will to relieve human suffering by sponsoring direct service programs for the poor, disadvantaged, disabled, elderly and children with special needs.
Support conservative voices!
Sign up to receive the latest new policies, ideas and commentary delivered straight to your inbox.
As part of that mission, Catholic Charities says it provided 632 “safe and affordable housing” units in northern Wisconsin using 685 employees in 2022, which is about 25% of its nearly $40 million operating budget. dollars. To provide these and other services, Catholic charities partner with lay providers, who must agree to abide by Catholic social teaching in the performance of their duties.
It is this collaboration with ‘all people of good will,’ circuit court says, that disqualifies Catholic charities from religious exemption, instead of requiring it to contribute to an account with the reserve fund for Wisconsin unemployment. Because Catholic Charities does not evangelize or catechise, conduct religious rituals or worship, or require its clients to participate in religious activities, the court held that Catholic Charities cannot be considered operating as a primarily religious organization, as required by state law for a religious exemption.
RELATED: Actor Rainn Wilson not happy with pastor’s portrayal of ‘the last of us’ – calls out anti-Christian bias in Hollywood
Becket’s attorneys argue that with the exemption, the church can run its program at a lower cost, allowing it to spend more money on its programs. The Church Unemployment Pay program says its maximum weekly benefit rate, $370 for eligible recipients, is the same as the state program.
Mike Mosher, assistant director of communications for the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development, declined to comment directly on the Catholic Charities case. In an email to RealClearInvestigations, he wrote that his department “is responsible for ensuring that all staff members are treated fairly and equitably.”
In his petition, Becket objects to the government usurping the authority of the Bishop of the Diocese of Superior, who controls the operation of the CCB and its affiliates.
The circuit court decision, Vitagliano said, “will require Wisconsin executive officials and the courts of Wisconsin to undertake intrusive investigations into the practices of many different admittedly religious groups and then decide whether specific activities carried out by these religious groups are ‘intrinsically’ or ‘primarily’ religious. It is the antithesis of the separation between church and state.
U.S. Supreme Court decisions such as Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morrissey-Berru in 2020 prohibited governments from deciding whether employee duties were religious enough to merit First Amendment protection when hiring and firing employees at religious schools. Involving state agencies in the unemployment of religious organizations, Becket’s attorneys say, opens the church up to government interference of the kind excluded by the Guadeloupe decision, to determine what constitutes a true religious ministry.
“The Catholic Charities Bureau helps people with disabilities, the elderly and people living in poverty – regardless of their religion,” said a Press statement of Becket’s law. “This mandate to serve all in need stems directly from the teaching of the Catholic Church and advances the religious mission of the Catholic Church by performing the bodily works of mercy.”
RELATED: Vice President Harris says Americans can hold pro-life beliefs and still be pro-abortion
According to Suhr, if the Wisconsin Supreme Court upholds the circuit court’s decision to deny the religious exemption to the Catholic Charities Bureau, it could threaten the operations of less hierarchical or independent faiths. He said: “We need to make sure we have a legal test broad enough to cover Rastafarians and Independent Fundamental Baptists and Catholics. A test that solves a problem for Catholic charities may create problems for other faiths, he said.
Suhr distinguishes between the Catholic Church and what he calls para-ecclesiastical ministries, affiliated with independent individual congregations or networks of congregations that lack a strong overall denominational affiliation at the state or national level. National level. “These entities still deserve full First Amendment protection,” he said. “As churches and denominations evolve and people’s religious practice evolves, the protection of the First Amendment remains the same.”
“As denominations decline, we have these legacy institutions that have denominational origins, but not necessarily, you know, the full, vibrant faith of today that is visible,” Suhr said. He points to universities, hospitals and social service providers, “all those other places that get big government contracts” to serve the public. But the institutional affiliations remain. “Are we going to ask a bureaucrat to judge how good enough religion is?”
Syndicated with permission by RealClearWire.
Opinions expressed by contributors and/or content partners are their own and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Political Insider.