Wednesday, March 20, 2024

Wisconsin liberals. . .

The Wisconsin Supreme Court on March 14 (beware the Ides) ruled that the activities of a major Roman Catholic charity group were not “primarily” religious under state law, therefore upholding the stripping of the tax break and status of the group.  The group was then required to pay into the state unemployment system.  Catholic Charities Bureau (CCB) last year argued that the state had improperly removed its designation as a religious organization.  In response, the charity filed a lawsuit after the state said it did not qualify to be considered as an organization “operated primarily for religious purposes.”  It was that order which prevented the charity from using a their own unemployment system and forced it to contribute money to the state-run unemployment system.  In its divided 4-3 ruling, the Supreme Court of Wisconsin agreed with the judgment of the state, upheld a lower court ruling and found that Catholic Charities Bureau and its subgroups “offer services that would be the same regardless of the motivation of the provider,” and therefore group does not “operate primarily for religious purposes.” 

I know not the merits of this particular case but I suspect that it is the wave of the future.  As the days move along, the once almost automatic religious exemptions will be increasingly challenged.  In some cases it is because the state and localities need tax dollars and churches and their agencies are sitting on land and property which could be taxed.  In other cases it is because the conflict between the interests of the state and the Church are in conflict (here think in terms of abortion, GLBTQ+ rights, gender identity, etc.).  In other cases, support for religious agencies and organizations is deemed to be not quite a religious purpose and therefore not worth the exemption (as, perhaps, in this case).  The point of this is to say that as time goes forward we will see an increasingly adversarial role between the government (on various levels) and the Church and the work deemed religious and consistent with the faith by churches but not quite by the government.  In this case, Wisconsin is a bit a head of the pack but not by too far.  We have already seen tests of this in the areas of higher education and the placement of foster children and children eligible for adoption.  At this point all I can say is to be forewarned is to be forearmed.  We must be authentic, consistent, and careful in what we do as churches in order for us to have integrity in our position before the laws and courts of our states and nation.  But we must also be diligent not to compromise our values and the faith.  It is becoming a rather narrower field in which we work given the unfriendliness of those who were once neutral or perhaps even friendly but now are decidedly the opposite.

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