Vouchers For Religious Schools Illegal (Jan/Feb 1997)

 (See text of decision below.)

The nation’s first public-voucher-for-religious-schools program, in Milwaukee, violates the Wisconsin Constitution, according to a ruling issued on January 15 by Circuit Judge Paul B. Higginbotham, of Madison, Wisconsin.

Judge Higginbotham issued a firm 50-page ruling finding the scheme to give tax dollars to religious schools unconstitutional.

Disadvantaged children in Milwaukee had been made eligible in 1990 to attend nonreligious private schools at public expense through vouchers, an experiment upheld by a court as constitutional. Polly Williams, a black state legislator, joined forces with conservative Republicans, corporations and religionists, to pass the legislation. Opponents warned that the experiment was a “foot-in-the-door,” a red herring meant to pave the way to funnel public money to parochial schools.

In 1995, the Wisconsin legislature, at the behest of Catholic Gov. Tommy Thompson, expanded the program from 1% of Milwaukee students to up to 15%, and voted to provide taxpayer vouchers for religious as well as nonreligious schools. In Milwaukee, Catholic schools make up the majority of private schools.

Plaintiffs, including the Milwaukee Teachers Association and the NAACP, represented by the ACLU, sought and obtained an injunction from Judge Higginbotham in August 1995, preventing the amended program from being implemented. It would have taken as much as $66 million in tax money to send about 15,000 students to attend religious schools.

In an unprecedented power play, Gov. Thompson, who was not a party to the lawsuit, removed the lawsuit from the circuit courtroom, asking the Wisconsin Supreme Court to intervene. The state’s high court tied in a 3-3 vote on the issue, sending the case back to Judge Higginbotham.

Gov. Thompson appointed Kenneth Starr, the special prosecutor of Whitewater, as special counsel to defend the parochiaid. The Capital Times reported that Starr has been paid $49,920 so far, and his law firm, Kirkland and Ellis, has received a total of $243,500. In another unparalleled move creating disturbing precedent, Thompson arranged to have these fees paid for by a private group, the ultra-conservative Bradley Foundation in Milwaukee.

Higginbotham’s decision is expected to be appealed, and to eventually end up back in the Wisconsin State Supreme Court, where Thompson and public school foes are jockeying for votes. Supreme court justices are elected to 10-year terms, and upcoming elections may tip the balance.

Following the decision, the conservative Wisconsin State Journal editorialized (January 17, 1997) its agreement with Higginbotham’s finding that the plan clearly violates the Wisconsin constitution’s prohibition against supporting religious seminaries and places of worship.

Not reprinted in the excerpt below is the judge’s lengthy discussion of Wisconsin’s strong historic court history upholding secular instruction, notably the 1890 Weiss state Supreme Court decision barring bible-reading in Wisconsin schools (see sidebar). Religious voucher proponents cited as precedent the lawsuit King v. Village of Waunakee, a Foundation-funded challenge of a publicly-displayed and maintained creche, in which the state Supreme Court ruled in favor of the creche, invoking the federal constitution over the state constitution. Higginbotham rejected that argument. He wrote that the strongly-worded provisions for state/church separation in the Wisconsin Constitution are not subsumed by the broader First Amendment, and that he was not bound by federal jurisprudence.

He also ruled that the amended program is so large that it no longer qualifies as an experiment — which impacts an earlier court ruling finding the original 1990 program constitutional.

Higginbotham discussed the “public purpose doctrine” indepth, finding the law had none. However, he rejected the plaintiffs’ contention that the program violates the “uniformity clause” of Wisconsin’s Art. X, sec. 3 mandating uniform district schools.

Excerpted below is the body of Higginbotham’s decision documenting the religious mission of the religious schools, minus legal footnotes, etc.

State Of Wisconsin, Circuit Court, Dane County, Branch 17

Warner Jackson, Et Al., vs. John T. Benson, et al. (Case No. 95 CV 1982); Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association, et al., vs. John T. Benson, et al. (Case No. 95 CV 1997); NAACP, et al., vs. John T. Benson, et al. (Case No. 96 CV 1889)


A. Milwaukee Schools: An Educational Crisis

It is beyond dispute that the Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) face the most serious educational challenges in the State. Indeed, the Supreme Court of Wisconsin recognized just a few years ago that “the Milwaukee Public School District has significantly greater education and poverty problems than any other school district in the state.” Davis v. Grover, 166 Wis. 2d 501, 480 N.W.2d 460, 469 (1992). Moreover, “[t]he statistical data clearly illustrated that the socioeconomic disparities and the educational problems are greater in the large urban area of Milwaukee than any other part of Wisconsin.”

By any measure of educational performance, Milwaukee Public Schools have performed dismally. For example, in 1989, when the original Choice Plan was under consideration, the dropout rate for high-school students reached 14.4 percent. At the same time, the schools in the rest of the state enjoyed the relatively low dropout rate of 3.11 percent. In light of the dropout rates in the MPS, it is not surprising that in 1989 less than 45 percent of MPS students graduated from high school within six years — down from 57 percent just five years earlier. And of those who did graduate within six years in 1989, more than one third did so with a “D” average.

The Wisconsin Supreme Court in Davis v. Grover found that these realities “dramatically show the need for legislative attention.” That legislative attention began with the original Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (the “MPCP” or “Choice Program”) enacted in 1989, and continued with the amended MPCP now under challenge. 1995 Wisconsin Act 27, ¤¤ 4002-09 (the “amended MPCP”).

B. The Original Choice Program

In the spring of 1990, the Wisconsin Legislature created the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program, which is codified at sec. 119.23, Stats. The Original MPCP provided that “any pupil in grades kindergarten to 12 who resides within the city [of Milwaukee] may attend, at no charge, any nonsectarian private school located in the city,” as long as certain requirements were met.

From 1990 to 1994, the MPCP was open to 1 percent of the membership of the Milwaukee Public School district. For the 1994-95 school year, that percentage was raised to 1.5 percent –approximately 1,460 students. To take part in the program, a student’s family income cannot exceed 1.75 times the federal poverty level. As originally enacted, no more than 49 percent of a private school’s total enrollment could consist of pupils attending under the MPCP. That percentage was increased to 65 percent.

Under the Original MPCP, the Superintendent of Public Instruction paid participating private schools an amount equal to the per-pupil student aid provided to the Milwaukee public schools. The moneys disbursed under the MPCP are appropriated from general purpose revenues, which consist primarily of general taxes collected by the state.

C. The Amended Choice Program

The 1995-96 Budget Act, 1995 Wis. Act 27, which Governor Thompson signed into law July 26, 1995, expanded the MPCP. Most significantly, the Act eliminated the prohibition on participation by religious schools in the MPCP: . . .

The Budget Act also enlarged the number of students who can participate in the MPCP. As many as 7 percent of the Milwaukee school district’s pupil population would have been able to participate in the Program during the 1995-96 school year, and up to 15 percent of the student population are eligible beginning in 1996-97. Based on the 1995-96 Milwaukee School District estimated pupil population of 98,370 students nearly 7,000 students could have participated in the expanded MPCP in the 1995-96 school year, with up to 15,000 students potentially taking part in later years. The Act also repealed the restriction in the Original MPCP limiting a private school’s enrollment to 65 percent MPCP students.

The Budget Act amended the method by which the Superintendent pays tuition to private schools participating in the MPCP. Rather than making the check payable to the school as under the Original MPCP, the Superintendent will now make checks payable to the pupil’s parent or guardian. The checks are sent not to the parents, however, but directly to the private school. The parents then must “restrictively endorse the check for the use of the private school.” . . .

There are no limitations on how private schools, including religious schools, may use the funds they receive under the MPCP. The funds may be used to support all of the educational functions of the school, including religious education, and they may be used to maintain, repair or construct facilities, including facilities used for religious purposes. As under the Original MPCP, funds paid to schools under the Amended MPCP are drawn from general purpose revenues.

Private schools that participate in the Amended MPC will receive the lesser of the amount of per-pupil state aid to the Milwaukee public schools under sec. 121.08, Stats., or “an amount equal to the private school’s operating and debt service cost per pupil that is related to educational programming, as determined by the department.” The per-pupil state aid provided to MPS under sec. 121.08 for the 1995-96 school year was approximately $3,667. For the 1996-97 school year, the amount is approximately $4,400. . . .

Under the Amended MPCP, participating schools must allow students to opt-out of “religious activities.” . . . Students attending a religious school under the MPCP who have not opted-out may participate, at state expense, in the full range of religious activities offered by the school.

Furthermore, the amended MPCP eliminated some of the reporting requirements included in the original MPCP. Under sec. 119.23(5)(d), Stats., of the original MPCP, the State Superintendent of Public Instruction was required to prepare and circulate a report to the relevant legislative committees each year. This report compared students participating in the MPCP with students enrolled in Milwaukee public schools in the following areas: “academic achievement, daily attendance record, percentage of pupils suspended and expelled and parental involvement activities of pupils attending a private school.” The amended MPCP eliminated this requirement. The amended MPCP also eliminated sec. 119.23(9)(a), Stats., which authorized the superintendent to “conduct one or more financial or performance evaluations, audits, or both.”

The amended MPCP did maintain some of the reporting requirements, however. The participating schools are still required to follow uniform financial accounting standards, and must submit to annual independent financial audits. In addition, sec. 119.23(9), Stats., requires the legislative audit bureau to perform a financial and performance evaluation audit of the program by January 15, 2000 which will be distributed to the chief clerk of each house of the legislature and to appropriate standing committees.

D. The Participating Schools

There are 122 private schools in Milwaukee that would have been eligible to participate in the Amended MPCP during the 1995-96 school year. Of those, 89 are sectarian and 33 are nonsectarian. Approximately 84 percent of the pupils who attend private schools in Milwaukee during the 1994-95 school year attended religious schools.

The parties have provided the Court, as part of the Agreed Upon Statement of Facts, the mission statements and other written materials prepared by many of the religious schools that notified the Superintendent of Public Instruction of their intent to participate in the Amended MPCP during the 1995-96 school year. The participating schools announce forthrightly that their mission is religious and that religious doctrine will be instilled in their students:

  • “Oklahoma Avenue Lutheran School is an integral part of the ministry of Oklahoma Avenue Lutheran Church.”
  • “The mission of St. Leo and St. Rose Catholic schools is to share in the parish evangelization effort through providing quality Catholic education in grades pre-kindergarten through eight.”
  • “The continuing purpose of St. Matthew Ev. Lutheran Church and School is to go and tell the pure Gospel of Jesus Christ for the conversion of unbelievers and the strengthening of believers in faith and Christian living.”
  • “St. Paul’s Lutheran School exists to: assist parents in training children in God’s ways, teach God’s Word to children, and make disciples of children.”
  • “We believe our school exists to carry out the Savior’s command to ‘go and make disciples’ (Matt: 28:19). Consequently, our school’s primary reason for existence is to be a tool for bringing young souls to faith in Jesus. . . .”
  • “A prospective student whose parents are not members of a church will be considered as mission prospects. Christ Lutheran Church/School considers it a responsibility to teach the Word of God to those who have not heard this blessed Word.”
  • “The objectives of the [Clara Muhammad School] are: 1. To foster within each student the principle of submissions to the will of Allah (God) as the essential element in achieving human excellence.”
  • “Holy Redeemer Christian Academy is an integral part of the ministry of Holy Redeemer Church of God in Christ.”
  • “As a Catholic high school, [Divine Savior Holy Angels High School] is dedicated to promoting the beliefs and traditions of the Catholic Church.”
  • “The Yeshiva Elementary School of Milwaukee was initiated by members of the Orthodox Jewish Community with the following objectives as their goals: To teach elementary school children Torah and Mitzvos in accordance with the ideals and aspirations of Torah as espoused by the G’Dolei Yisroel in order to provide the excellence in Orthodox Jewish Education which will prepare our children to attend the finest seminaries, Yeshivas and institutions of Jewish higher learning.”
  • “The function of St. Bernadette Day School is to provide for Christian individuals opportunities for growth in faith, for formation, for development.”
  • “First and foremost Garden Homes Lutheran Church conducts and maintains a Christian elementary school to assist Christian parents in the training and nurturing of their children in the Word of God.”

As the schools’ literature emphasizes, one of the primary means by which these schools accomplish their religious missions is by integrating the religious and secular aspects of the schools’ educational programs.

  • “In keeping with the purpose of our school, our curriculum is taught in the setting of God’s Word. Religion is not only taught as a subject, but out teachers have been trained to integrate God’s Word across the curriculum. . . . Our curriculum offerings place Christ as the focal point for all study.” (The Lutheran Chapel of The Cross Church and School).
  • “Each class is taught by a dedicated Christian teacher who believes in Biblical concepts of salvation. Teachers strive to build into the curriculum a philosophy of Christian living that includes moral and spiritual values.” (Milwaukee Junior Academy (Seventh-day Adventist)).
  • “Emmaus Lutheran Church and School is a Christian institution, not a private school. The Holy Gospel is the center of our curriculum.”
  • “[E]verything that confronts the child in the educational program offered by St. Matthew Ev. Lutheran School will be presented in the light of His inspired, inerrant word of truth and power.”
  • “The children will be thoroughly trained in the fundamental subject areas needed for a successful life here on this earth. It is our aim that these subjects be taught in accordance to Scripture and that all things related to the children’s educational life be permeated with God’s Word.” (St. Paul’s Lutheran School).
  • “Christian teachings are fostered in all classes, but especially in the religion program.” (All Saints Catholic Elementary School).
  • At St. Veronica Catholic Elementary School, “Christian-Centered Education” means “Integrating Catholic faith in all academic areas.”
  • “The students of St. Alexander’s are not only taught the basic truths of their religion; they are also exposed to the Christian attitudes and ideologies which pervade their school environment.”
  • “The message of Jesus is taught in religion classes and other curricular areas. . . . Because of the nature of a Catholic school, religion is taught daily as part of the curriculum. Catholic values are also incorporated into all other aspects of the curriculum.” (St. Bernadette School)
  • “The Bible forms the core and center upon which all instruction is based. Each day is opened with a devotion followed by instruction in Christian doctrine and Bible study. Our school gives due instruction in all branches of academics, which are required by the State of Wisconsin. All subjects are taught by a Christian teacher in the light of God’s Word, emphasizing God’s love for all men through Jesus.” (Bethlehem Lutheran School)
  • “All subject areas in our school are Christ-centered.” (Gospel Lutheran School)
  • “We Believe . . . that the Christian School, where every subject is taught from the Christian point of view, related to the teachings of Christianity and permeated with the spirit of Christianity, can be more successful in leading children to a vital Christian life than any other agency, except the Christian home.” (Oklahoma Avenue Lutheran School).
  • “We teach all the traditional subjects, but we teach them differently — from a Christian perspective.” (Mount Olive Lutheran School)

As noted above, the Amended MPCP pays participating schools the lesser of the schools’ per-pupil costs or the amount of the per-pupil state aid provided to MPS, which in the 1995-96 school year was approximately $3,667 and for the 1996-97 school year will be about $4,400. The tuition charged by a majority of the religious schools that have applied to participate in the Amended MPCP, however, is less than either of those amounts. As a result, a majority of the participating religious schools will receive more money from the state for each participating pupil than they charge in tuition.

Holy Cross School, for example, charges tuition of $1,475, while its “actual cost of education” is $2,446 per student. Emmaus Lutheran School charges $1,080 tuition to church members and $1,350 nonmembers, though its annual expenditures exceed $2,000 per pupil. Mother of Good Counsel School reports that its tuition ($1,370 for parish members, $1,940 for nonmembers) “covers just half the cost of educating MGC students.” Mount Olive Lutheran School states that the tuition charged even to non-members is “substantially less than our per pupil cost.”

Many religious schools depend on subsidies from their sponsoring churches to make up the difference between tuition and operating expenses. Bethlehem Lutheran School, for example, reports that “Bethlehem Lutheran Church subsidizes nearly 50 percent of the cost per student.” Mount Olive Lutheran School states that “Mount Olive congregation provides the major support since the focus of our school is Christian education.” St. Catherine School says that it “is partially subsidized by the parish at large.” Because the Amended MPCP pays schools more than what they charge in tuition, the Choice Program relieves the churches that sponsor the schools of at least part of the cost of subsidizing the difference between tuition received and the actual cost of education.


Article I. Sec. 18 of the Wisconsin Constitution

Plaintiffs’ first claim the amended MPCP violates Art. I, sec. 18 of the Wisconsin Constitution, which provides as follows:

The right of every person to worship Almighty God according to the dictates of conscience shall never be infringed; nor shall any person be compelled to attend, erect or support any place of worship, or to maintain any ministry, without consent; nor shall any control of, or interference with, the rights of conscience be permitted, or any preference be given by law to any religious establishment, or modes of worship; nor shall any money be drawn from the treasury for the benefit of religious societies, or religious or theological seminaries.

Plaintiffs’ claim focuses on two provisions: “nor shall any person be compelled to attend, erect or support any place of worship, or to maintain any ministry without consent;” and “nor shall any money be drawn from the treasury for the benefit of religious societies, or religious or theological seminaries.” These two provisions are commonly referred to as the “compelled support” clause and the “benefit” clause, respectively. Each clause will be discussed in turn.

A. The Benefit Clause

The proper analysis for determining whether the amended MPCP is constitutional as to the sectarian schools is set forth in the seminal United States Supreme Court decision of Lemon v. Kurtzman, 403 U.S. 602 (1971): The statute must have a secular legislative purpose; its primary effect must neither advance nor inhibit religion; and it must not foster excessive governmental entanglement with religion. Our concern in this case is whether the primary effect of including sectarian schools in the amended MPCP advances religion. I conclude that it does.

In an attempt to give some organization to the Wisconsin cases applying the Lemon test to Article I, Sec. 18 controversies, I provide the following analytical framework. We look to three factors to determine whether the amended MPCP meets the “primary effect” prong of the Lemon test as it is applied in Wisconsin. . . .

Factor 1: Does the legislation provide aid to an institution in which religion is so pervasive that a substantial portion of its functions are subsumed in the religious mission or it funds a specifically religious activity in an otherwise substantially secular setting? The answer is yes.

In Weiss and Reynolds the Court stated elementary and secondary schools providing religious or sectarian instruction are “religious seminaries” as that term is used in Article I, sec. 18. There is no dispute that the sectarian schools wishing to participate or which currently participate in the amended MPCP are “religious seminaries.” There is also no dispute that the amended MPCP would provide state funds from the state treasury to those schools should the program be allowed to continue. The question before us is can these schools separate the secular activity of education from the nonsecular activity reflected in their religious missions.

Wisconsin and federal courts have generally acknowledged that elementary and secondary schools with a religious affiliation are pervasively sectarian. See State ex rel. Wisconsin Health Facilities Authority v. Lindner, 91 Wis. 2d 145, 156-57; See also, Meek v. Pittenger, 421 U.S. 349 (1975); Committee for Public Education v. Nyquist, 413 U.S. 756 (1973); Levitt v. Committee for Public Education, 413 U.S. 472 (1973). “The basis of this distinction is the recognition that the very purpose of many elementary and secondary schools is to provide an integrated secular and religious education. The schools are often devoted to the inculcation of religious values.” Wisconsin Health Facilities Authority, at 156-57, citing Meek, 421 U.S. at 366.

In the first instance, we can assume as a matter of law that the elementary and secondary schools wishing to participate in the amended MPCP are pervasively sectarian. Then, when we review the stated missions of these schools as provided in the stipulated facts, their intent to inculcate their students with their religious doctrine is manifest. It is equally clear that it is impossible, under any scenario, for these schools to separate the secular function of education from their religious mission. Their very existence is to convert students to their religion and to proselytize their doctrine. We can easily conclude that the amended MPCP would provide aid to institutions in which religion is so pervasive that a substantial portion of their functions are subsumed in their religious mission.

Factor 2: Does the legislation provide for direct governmental aid to a sectarian institution? The answer is yes.

This is perhaps the most controversial of the issues presented in this case. Plaintiffs argue that although the amended MPCP provides for “indirect” payments to the schools, direct government aid is still being provided to the religious schools. Defendants point to a long line of federal cases that stand for the proposition that government payments to parents to subsidize their child’s education is “indirect” aid to the schools, thus not violative of the Establishment Clause. This conclusion is buttressed by the ability of the parents to independently choose the schools at which their child will attend. In this case the parents choose the school and inform the state Superintendent. The state Superintendent sends a check directly to the school which must be restrictively endorsed by both the school and the parents.

It can hardly be said that this does not constitute direct aid to the sectarian schools. Although the U.S. Supreme Court has chosen to turn its head and ignore the real impact of such aid, this court refuses to accept that myth. Millions of dollars would be directed to religious institutions that are pervasively sectarian with a clear mission to indoctrinate Wisconsin students with their religious beliefs. Whether sent directly to the schools or sent directly to the schools with a mandate of restrictive endorsement by the parents, is irrelevant under Article I, sec. 18 which makes no distinction as to how the “benefit” is provided. As stated earlier in this case, the state cannot do indirectly what it cannot do directly. And that is provide money from the state treasury to pervasively sectarian religious schools for the purpose of educating Wisconsin students.

Factor 3: Who are the primary beneficiaries of this funding?

The religious schools would be the primary beneficiaries of the government aid. The parents of students attending these schools will certainly gain a benefit. Indeed, such aid provides an inducement to the parents to send their children to the religious schools. However, the religious schools, which constitute approximately 89 percent of the private schools in the city of Milwaukee, would greatly benefit from the amended MPCP. Millions of dollars would pour into their coffers, greatly enriching their ability to fulfill their religious missions.

In addition, state payments to participating religious schools under the amended MPCP are not limited to the tuition actually charged by the schools. The parties have stipulated that the tuition charged by a majority of the religious schools is less than the amount of state payment they would receive under the amended MPCP. The amended MPCP places no limitations on how the money may be used, including teachers, salaries and operating expenses. Reynolds and Warren forbid the use of government funds for operating expenses by religious institutions. Every dollar paid by the government exceeding the actual tuition provides a direct and substantial benefit to the religious schools.

B. The Compelled Support Clause

Article I, sec. 18 reads in pertinent part: “. . . nor shall any person be compelled to . . . support any place of worship or to maintain any ministry, without consent . . .” The amended MPCP violates the compelled support clause because it compels Wisconsin taxpayers to support religious schools providing pervasively sectarian instruction rendering them places of worship and to maintain ministries without their consent.

We have already discussed how the Court held in Weiss, that Bible readings in public schools violates the “benefit” and the “compelled support” clauses. The Court found reading a Bible in public schools to constitute “worship” and by permitting this activity in the schools, the schools became “place(s) of worship” within the meaning of Article I, sec. 18. Bible reading in the public schools violates the compelled support clause because taxpayers of the school district with different religious beliefs were “compelled to aid in the erection of the school building in question, and also to aid in the support of the school maintained therein.” “Being thus compelled to aid in such erection and support, they have a legal right to object to its being used as a ‘place of worship.’ “

The amended MPCP also compels support of places of worship without the consent of taxpayers. Religious elementary and secondary schools are pervasively sectarian, usually including religious worship and teachings in their institutions. There can be no question that the parochial schools are places of worship.

Tax dollars will be used to support these schools. As stated earlier, no limitations are placed on the use of the government aid. The schools may use these funds as operating expenses, to purchase religious writings for instruction, or other similar uses.

Perhaps the most offensive part of the amended MPCP is it compels Wisconsin citizens of varying religious faiths to support schools with their tax dollars that proselytize students and attempt to inculcate them with beliefs contrary to their own. We do not object to the existence of parochial schools or that they attempt to spread their beliefs through their schools. They just cannot do it with state tax dollars.

Accordingly, the amended MPCP, by permitting religious schools to participate in the program, violates Article I, sec. 18 of the Wisconsin Constitution because the primary effect of the amended MPCP is to benefit the religious missions of the elementary and secondary religious schools and because it compels Wisconsin taxpayers to support places of worship without their consent. . . .

Wisconsin Schools Strongly Secular

The Weisscourt [1890] explained rather elaborately the historical context of the creation of Article I, sec 18:

The relations of church and state have been the subject of discussion for many centuries; and at certain times, and in certain nations of Europe, one particular sect has been the established church of the state, and at other times or in other nations the belief of some other sect has been the established religion — while other sects, not so favored, were either exterminated altogether or permitted to remain on conditions more or less disagreeable and humiliating. These discriminations naturally generated bitterness, enmities, and even cruel war among brethren. Many of the early immigrants to this country had felt the despotism of such intolerance, and came hither in consequence of it. They came from different countries of Europe, and, consequently, had experienced different types of intolerance. Some of them were as narrow minded in such matters as their oppressors had been; and hence no sooner acquired civil power than they themselves became intolerant towards all sects except their own. . . .

Wisconsin, as one of the later states admitted into the Union, having before it the experience of others, and probably in view of its heterogeneous population, . . . has in her organic law, probably furnished a more complete bar to any preference for, or discrimination against, any religious sect, organization, or society than any other state in the Union.

It is undoubtedly clear that the Weiss court was signaling to all concerned that in response to Wisconsin’s unique history, the constitutional framers intended to provide strict protection to Wisconsin citizens in the exercise of their religious beliefs while at the same time placing great restrictions on the state with respect to compelling its citizens to support “any place of worship” and drawing funds from the treasury “for the benefit of religious societies, or religious or theological seminaries.”

Freedom From Religion Foundation