FFRF Protests Student Fees for Catholicism

The Freedom From Religion Foundation formally has objected to a Feb. 15 vote by the University of Wisconsin-Madison student government to award $147,000 in student fees to the UW Roman Catholic Foundation. This is the first time student segregated fees have been designated for worship. Some of the funds will pay for Lenten booklets.”

The UW’s interim dean, Lori Berquam, appealed to the Student Council not to approve the funding, pointing out the group operates off campus. A nonstudent director at the Catholic foundation, Tim Kruse, complained: “If students come to us for choral music, and they go to other groups for condoms, we don’t want them to fund one and not the other.”

“This well-endowed Roman Catholic center, which serves about 10,000 Catholic students and describes itself as one of the oldest and largest ‘student organizations’ on campus, should be asking for funding from Catholic students, their parents and the diocese, not from the diverse student body,” said Annie Laurie Gaylor, Foundation co-president.

In fact, the group has received funding for the past two years for “secular purposes,” such as a theater arts group.

“The Catholic Church, which enjoys the major benefit of being tax-free, and which is not required to open its books to the public or the government, is one of the wealthiest churches in the world. It should promulgate its antiwoman, antigay, antiabortion, antibirth control, and anti-freedom of conscience message without ‘robbing’ student fees at a public institution.”

A religious center is not a “cultural” activity, it is a proselytizing activity, Gaylor added.

“This misguided action by students would open the floodgates to relentless demands for public funding of religion by campus religious entities,” Gaylor said, “hopelessly entangling church and state.”

In a letter to Chancellor John D. Wiley, attorney James Friedman on behalf of the Foundation debunked the Catholic Foundation’s claim that Supreme Court precedent permits public student subsidy of religion. Friedman pointed out the Southworth decision (2000) held that segregated fee programs are constitutional if “based on viewpoint neutral criteria,” but did not approve using such fees for religious organizations.

“On this point, Establishment Clause jurisprudence absolutely requires religious organizations receiving public aid through viewpoint neutral criteria to use that aid only for secular purposes. More precisely, the aid must be segregated and confined to secular uses and cannot be diverted to the advancement of religion,” Friedman noted.

Freedom From Religion Foundation