For Immediate Release - June 1, 2000
Wisconsin "Marriage Meddlers" Law Unconstitutional
(MADISON, WI) A nationally-watched Wisconsin law to create a state coordinator to "assist" clergy to develop "community-wide standards of marriage" was ruled unconstitutional in a firm decision issued on May 25 by U.S. District Judge John Shabaz.
The law was to be modeled after a Christian program called Marriage Savers, based in Maryland, and its director, Mike McManus, suggested that its funding source be the federal Temporary Assistance to Needy Families. Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Scott Jensen placed the item appropriating $210,000 in TANF funds, in last year's state budget. There were no public hearings or debate over the highly-criticized measure.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation, a national association based in Madison, WI, working to preserve the separation of church and state, filed a lawsuit last December challenging the appropriation. Plaintiffs included not only the Foundation and its staff members, but the Rev. Charles Wolfe, pastor of Plymouth Congregational Church, Madison, alleging the law: violated both religion prongs of the First Amendment, as well as the Fourteenth Amendment.
Wisconsin Attorney General James Doyle refused to defend the budget item, advising Gov. Tommy Thompson that the act is unconstitutional. Thompson then hired Milwaukee attorney Dan Kelly, a graduate of Pat Robertson's Regent University Law School, to represent the state.
Wrote Shabaz, a former colleague of Gov. Thompson: "The Wisconsin Legislature has favored clerical officiants over the secular and has conveyed a message that religiously solemnized marriages are preferred to those secularly solemnized. Such an imprimatur stamped on religion by the state is a violation of the Establishment Clause."