Earlier this month, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit issued a ruling that could have an impact on your religious liberty and several ADF clients in other cases we are currently fighting.
For years, the University of Wisconsin-Madison has made student activity fees (which are NOT tax dollars) available on an equal basis to any student organization to help underwrite the costs of their events and activities ... any student organization, that is, except one that is “too religious”: students praying, worshipping God, and sharing their faith with others on campus. Never mind that those pressing support for abortion, homosexual sex, and socialism were evangelizing, too. Those topics, in the view of the university, merited funding.
ADF interceded at the request of the Badger Catholics, and the case first came to a head three years ago, when the university signed a settlement agreement promising to consider their funding request by the same criteria as all other campus groups. Soon after, though, the university resurrected dubious establishment clause concerns and began once again denying funding for prayer, worship, and evangelism.
ADF filed suit, and a federal district judge granted a preliminary injunction against the university, so the Badger Catholics could receive funding while the case proceeded. Last year, a different judge issued a final ruling partially in Badger Catholic’s favor. The university appealed that decision to the 7th Circuit, which on September 1 affirmed the lower court’s decision and ruled that the university violated the First Amendment by its discrimination.
“The University of Wisconsin is not propagating its own message,” the court concluded. “It has created a public forum where the students, not the University, decide what is to be said. And having created a public forum, the University must honor the private choice…. [A] university cannot shape Badger Catholic’s message by selectively funding the speech it approves, but not the speech it disapproves.”
“The constitutional rights of Christian student organizations should be recognized by university officials just as they recognize those rights for other student groups,” said ADF Senior Counsel Jordan Lorence, who argued before the court last year. “The university funded the advocacy and expression of other student organizations, but singled out Badger Catholic for exclusion based purely upon its viewpoint. The 7th Circuit rightly regarded this as unconstitutional.”
The court also pointed out that the recent decision from the U.S. Supreme Court in Christian Legal Society v. Martinez does not contradict – but reinforces – the 7th Circuit’s conclusion in this case. That means the outcome of this case may ultimately figure in the Supreme Court’s likely future re-consideration of the CLS case, and could even have implications for the Bronx Household of Faith case, currently pending before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit.
The battle is never over. Each case God enables ADF to win is a building block for liberty; each has its own impact – sometimes subtle, sometimes profound – on so many others. Please pray for our attorneys, as they continually study how best to apply the results of each case we litigate to win for others.