Hearing focuses on state demand that it determine a church’s ministry

A hearing is scheduled before the Wisconsin Supreme Court next week in a fight against a claim by state bureaucrats that a Catholic ministry to serve the needs of the poor, elderly and disabled is not part of its faith mission.

Eric Rassbach, senior counsel at Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, is scheduled to present oral arguments on Monday in the case Catholic Charities Bureau v. Wisconsin Labor & Industrial Review Commission.

That state agency has claimed that the actions of Catholic Charities Bureau are not religious, not part of the church’s beliefs.

Becket explained that meant, “Catholic Charities Bureau was barred from leaving the state’s unemployment compensation program and joining the Wisconsin Catholic Church’s more efficient unemployment program.”

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Becket explained, “Most Catholic dioceses have a social ministry arm that serves those in need. Catholic Charities Bureau carries out this important work for the Diocese of Superior, Wisconsin, by helping the disabled, the elderly, and those living in poverty—regardless of their faith. This duty to serve everyone in need comes directly from Catholic Church teaching and advances the Church’s religious mission by carrying out the corporal works of mercy.”

Under state law, religious non-profits generally are exempt from the state’s demand they pay into the bureaucrats’ unemployment program.

But a lower court claimed that Catholic Charities Bureau failed to qualify because it does not limit its help to Catholics, and actually serves those in need.

“In fact, the court thought that Catholic Charities Bureau could only qualify if it preached the faith to and tried to convert those it served—even though the Catholic church teaches that care for the poor should never be conditioned on acceptance of the church’s teachings,” Becket explained.

An earlier report at Real Clear Wire noted the church ministry has helped people of all faiths for over a century.

And Milwaukee Archbishop Jerome Listecki pointed out that since the time of Jesus Christ, the church has had “a mandate from Scripture to serve the poor.”

Nonetheless, state bureaucrats have said the ministry actually is “a secular organization.”

The case itself is expected to determine if a state has the authority to determine what is a religious activity and what is not, and then impose that belief on churches.

The Wisconsin Supreme Court, in 1995, already rejected that ideology.

Becket’s Daniel Vitagliano earlier commented, “Saying Catholic Charities Bureau is not religious is like saying the Milwaukee Bucks is not a basketball team. It’s as absurd as it sounds.”

Real Clear Wire reported, “Since 1986, the Catholic Church in Wisconsin has provided its own unemployment insurance, the Church Unemployment Pay Program (CUPP), for lay employees of its institutions, such as schools and parishes.”

The Catholic Charities Bureau, however, has been required to subsidize the state’s own program.

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Content created by the WND News Center is available for re-publication without charge to any eligible news publisher that can provide a large audience. For licensing opportunities of our original content, please contact licensing@wndnewscenter.org.