UW-Madison Catholic student group wins $500,000 in legal costs
Madison, Wis., Sep 21, 2011 / 05:51 am (CNA).- The University of Wisconsin at Madison must pay $500,000 in legal costs to the university’s Catholic group after a court ruled that it wrongly denied student funds to the group.
“Universities should recognize the constitutional rights of Christian students and ministries just as they do for all other students and campus groups,” said Jordan Lorence, senior counsel with the Alliance Defense Fund, which filed the lawsuit.
“Sadly, the University refused to do so, and instead squandered money by trying to defend the indefensible: blatant, unlawful discrimination against Christian students and ministries.”
In September 2010 the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that university officials violated the First Amendment by funding the events of other student organizations but refusing to fund certain events of Badger Catholic, a registered student group then known as the Catholic Foundation.
In 2007 the university refused to grant the group a portion of student activity fees. The university refused about $35,000 of a $253,000 request. It argued that the funding of an organization which runs evangelistic training camps and spiritual retreats amounted to an illegal endorsement of religion.
Some of the group’s activities, including its retreats, were on hold while the case advanced through the courts.
“The payment is not the issue; I’m just relieved that this has finally come to a close and that this is resolved in a way that really affirmed Badger Catholic’s original position,” Nico Fassino, president of Badger Catholic, told the university student newspaper The Daily Cardinal.
He said the ruling will allow religious student organizations across the United States to deepen their level of services to students.
The appeals court’s decision said the university “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.”
It said a university “cannot shape Badger Catholic’s message by selectively funding the speech it approves, but not the speech it disapproves. Once it creates a public forum, a university must accept all comers within the forum’s scope.”
The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the university’s appeal in March 2011.
Badger Catholic received about $120,000 in student fee funding in 2011. It offers spiritual advising, service projects, lectures and other activities.