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Court rules university wrong to exclude student group

September 14, 2010

WASHINGTON, D.C.

The University of Wisconsin should not have prohibited the use of student funds for the worship-related activities of a Roman Catholic campus group, a federal appeals court has ruled.

The University of Wisconsin at Madison distributes funds from student fees for activities of registered student groups but rejected paying for worship, religious instruction and proselytizing by Badger Catholic, a student association.

“A university cannot shape Badger Catholic’s message by selectively funding the speech it approves, but not the speech it disapproves,” wrote Chief Judge Frank Easterbrook of the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in the Sept. 1 decision.

The Alliance Defense Fund, which sued on behalf of the student group, had argued that Catholics had been the victim of viewpoint discrimination.

“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.

The 2-1 majority said the recent Supreme Court decision, Christian Legal Society v. Martinez, left “no doubt” that the Wisconsin school should reimburse Badger Catholic programs it had rejected for funding.

The higher court ruled in June that a Christian student group must accept gays and non-Christians as members if it wanted to receive official recognition from a public university’s law school.

Circuit Judge Ann Claire Williams dissented, saying the rejection of funding for religious activities is a “neutral exclusion.”

University spokesperson Dennis Chaptman said the school’s attorneys are reviewing the decision.

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