Friday, November 10, 2006

U-Wisconsin Group Sues Regents, Officials Over Discrimination Claim

A Catholic group at the University of Wisconsin-Madison sued school officials on Thursday, claiming their policies discriminate against religious groups who want to qualify for student fees. The UW Roman Catholic Foundation filed suit in federal court in Madison against members of the UW System Board of Regents and four UW-Madison officials.

The suit challenges a policy that says student organizations must agree not to discriminate in their membership on the basis of religion. It claims the requirement discriminates against religious groups whose members share a similar faith and beliefs. The lawsuit, backed by a national group called the Alliance Defense Fund, also accuses UW-Madison officials of deliberately trying to limit funding of religious groups.

The suit comes two months after UW-Madison told the group it could no longer be a recognized student group because only three of its 12 board members are students. The decision means UWRCF, which runs St. Paul's Catholic Center and serves the school's estimated 12,000 Catholic students, cannot receive fees as it had in the previous three years.

School leaders have also questioned whether the group's programming is too religious in nature to qualify for state funds and whether it complies with the nondiscrimination policy.

Among other things, the suit seeks reinstatement for the group, monetary damages and a ruling invalidating the nondiscrimination policy. It claims the university policies violate students' right to free association.

UW System spokesman Doug Bradley said he had not seen the suit and had no immediate comment. UW-Madison officials have defended their policies, saying they are meant to ensure groups are controlled by students and that funding them does not violate the premise of keeping the church and state separate.

The suit is the latest by the Arizona-based ADF to challenge UW System policies on religion. The group is assisting in a similar lawsuit filed in October against UW-Superior for refusing to recognize its chapter of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. Pioneer Press

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