Lawsuit: College Discriminated Against Catholic Project

University of Wisconsin refused to grant two students service credit for teaching faith-based classes

Two University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire students filed a lawsuit in November alleging the university violated their religious freedom by refusing to accept their hours spent teaching classes at a Catholic church for a service-learning program.

The two students, Alexandra Liebl and Madelyn Rysavy, claim the university violated their constitutional rights by deeming their hours spent improving children’s reading skills and teaching them about Catholicism, Biblical history, and Latin did not meet the program’s 30-hour requirement. Although the university rejected these two students’ community service projects, it had no qualms about accepting other students’ participation in lectures about Planned Parenthood’s contributions to society or the White House Student Film Festival’s social justice initiatives.

“No public university should ever use a community service program as a vehicle to advance and instill anti-religious bias.”

“If the University of Wisconsin–Eau Claire wants to require its students to perform community service, it must treat all forms of community service as equally valuable,” Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) Legal Counsel Travis Barham said in a press release. “No public university should ever use a community service program as a vehicle to advance and instill anti-religious bias.”

ADF filed the lawsuit against the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire on behalf of Liebl and Rysavy.

The lawsuit, which states “the hallmark of higher education is that all students and all viewpoints are allowed to compete in the ‘marketplace of ideas'” on campus, soundly condemned the university for infringing upon the students’ rights and discriminating against their religion.

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“The First Amendment dictates that this marketplace cannot prefer some viewpoints and cannot exile, denigrate, or target others,” the lawsuit reads. “In direct violation of these principles, the University … enforces policies that subject certain religious activities in which students voluntarily engage to unique restrictions and disabilities while conferring academic credit upon students that engage in identical forms of expression from a non-religious viewpoint.”

When Liebl sought recognition for her 30 hours of service, the university declined her request and brought her attention to its Service-Learning Policy, which singles out religious service projects and states, “this public university will not award credit for time spent directly involved in promoting religious doctrine, proselytizing, or worship.” It didn’t seem to matter to the university that the policy notes “acceptance of a service-learning proposal … does not imply endorsement either of the proposed activities or of the recipient by the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.”

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Although the policy does state that students’ “sincerely held beliefs, preferences, and values will be reasonably accommodated in accepting service-learning proposals,” granting the two students credit hours for their work teaching in the church apparently proved to be too much.

“This is raw favoritism of non-religious ‘beliefs, preferences, and values’ over religious ones, and that’s not constitutional,” Barham said in the news release. “The university prohibits students from receiving service-learning credit for activities that involve religious instruction, persuasion, and recruitment, but it awards credit — and even encourages students to seek credit — for activities that involve the same forms of expression from a non-religious perspective.”

“But the First Amendment prohibits government officials from preferring some viewpoints while exiling, denigrating, or targeting others.”

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