Last Thursday, the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled 4-3 that Wisconsin Catholic Charities, run by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Superior, are not operated primarily for a religious purpose and therefore are not exempt from participating in the state’s unemployment tax system.

The Court decided that while the Superior-based Catholic Charities Bureau is motivated by Catholic doctrines to assist the elderly, disabled, and low-income individuals, the nature of the services they provide is considered non-religious.

Justice Rebecca Bradley, voting with the minority, wrote a dissenting opinion, in which she said, “The majority’s misinterpretation also excessively entangles the government in spiritual affairs, requiring courts to determine what religious practices are sufficiently religious under the majority’s unconstitutional test. The majority says secular entities provide charitable services, so such activities aren’t religious at all, even when performed by Catholic Charities.”

The legal counsel for the Catholic group has vowed to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. Should the high court decide to review the case, its decision could potentially set a precedent with widespread effects across the nation.

Wisconsin Family Council was part of a friend-of-the-court brief filed in this case, urging the Court to protect the rights of religious organizations. Unfortunately, the Wisconsin Supreme Court got this case wrong. This decision is pure judicial activism. Having any court determine for a religious entity which of its purposes are sufficiently religious is so obviously in violation of the First Amendment.

The implications of this decision are far-reaching, not just for Catholic entities but for all faith-based organizations that could find their religious missions scrutinized and secularized by poor judicial interpretation. This case underscores the importance of continuing to defend religious liberty at all levels of the legal system, as the fundamental right to live out one’s faith in all aspects of life — including acts of charity — is a cornerstone of the principles our nation was founded on.

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