Of Speeches and Sermons

Last week saw another round in the ongoing legal battle between the University of Wisconsin and the Madison campus’ Roman Catholic Foundation. In Roman Catholic Foundation v. Regents, 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 72980 (W.D. Wis., September 24, 2008), the court addressed the University’s refusal to allow segregated fees (that portion of a student’s tuition reserved for the funding of student organizations) to be used for certain RCF activities that the University regarded as worship, proselytizing, or sectarian instruction. These activities involved programs such as spiritual counseling, training RCF student leaders, the purchase of a drum shield to be used by the RCF’s praise band, and the printing of instructional pamphlets on praying the Rosary.

District Judge Lynn Adelman of the Eastern District of Wisconsin, sitting by designation, entered a declaratory judgment “stating that the University may not categorically exclude worship, proselytizing or sectarian instruction from segregated fee funding unless it does so pursuant to a rationale that is reasonable in light of the purposes of the forum and viewpoint neutral.”

As far as this goes, it seems to me to be consistent with recent decisions of the United States Supreme Court holding that even highly sectarian religious speech may not be excluded from a public forum if is otherwise within the forum’s purpose.

Continue ReadingOf Speeches and Sermons

The Door’s Open, But the Ride It Ain’t Free

The Open Door Church has sued the Sun Prairie (Wis.) Area School District in federal court in Madison. The complaint alleges that the district has adopted a broad policy permitting community groups to use the district’s facilities. However, the district seems to have adopted a policy of permitting waiver of rental charges for all potential users, except religious groups. As a result, the church has paid a fee for using a school classroom for weekly meetings of a club for children, while a variety of other groups, allegedly engaging in similar but nonreligious uses, were not charged.

Although the district has now changed its policy to require that all groups be charged, it has grandfathered those users for whom fees have already been waived, thus perpetuating any unconstitutional distinction between religious and nonreligious users.

Continue ReadingThe Door’s Open, But the Ride It Ain’t Free