Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Religious discrimination by the state of Wisconsin

A coalition of faith-based charitable organizations has sued the state (technically, it has sued certain named officials) for excluding certain of its member religious organizations from the Wisconsin State Employees Combined Campaign, a vehicle through which the state promotes and facilitates charitable contributions by its employees. The excluded organizations require their employees, board members and volunteers to agree with the religious beliefs of the organizations and this includes doctrine regarding sex outside marriage, including, but not limited to, "homosexual activity."

But no charities are permitted to participate in the Campaign unless they do not discriminate on the basis of, among other things, creed or sexual orientation. Although the Campaign has exempted the Boy Scouts, it does not permit groups like the Christian Legal Society or the Fellowship of Christian Athletes to participate.

The complaint alleges that the Campaign allows the participation of groups with very diverse political, social and religious views. Secular groups are permitted to require that their employees and volunteers ascribe to these organizations' purposes and beliefs. Religious groups - at least those who require adherence to a particular creed or sexual morality - are not.

This ought to be found to be unconstitutional. The state has no business including or excluding groups from a charitable deduction program based upon religion, speech or the manner in which these groups exercise their protected associational rights.

Its also bad policy. If the state doesn't want to facilitate charitable giving by its employees, it doesn't have to. But if its going to do so (and,as I'm sure it does, to promote giving to that campaign), it ought not to discriminate on the basis of what those charities believe.

You can read the complaint here.

9 comments:

Billiam said...

But, with our State Supreme Court make up, what are the odds?

Rick Esenberg said...

It is, thankfully, in federal court.

Billiam said...

That's a little better, then.

Todd said...

If the nondiscrimination signed into law in 1982 by Lee Dreyfus (R) means anything, shouldn't it mean that the state cannot condone or support or sponsor discrimination?

This smells like the Alliance Defense Fund? Are they involved?

Rick Esenberg said...

Todd

ADF is involved but to say that this is "discrimination" doesn't help us. Id "discrimination" is the touchstone, why isn't this discrimination on the basis of creed? You can participate as long as we don't disapprove of your beliefs.

Todd said...

It's not religious discrimination because it applies evenly across the board--including to those who would discriminate based on religion in their hiring decisions: i.e. a pro-abortion rights group must abide by the state's nondiscrimination statutes in the same way that an anti-abortion rights group must; a Jewish social services group must adhere to the same nondiscrimination criteria that a Catholic social service group adheres to.

The current process for deciding what groups qualify for the employee giving program applies the same test to every single group across the board, and groups that demand an exception in order to discriminate are asking for uneven and unfair treatment.

That ADF is involved in interesting. Their increased presence in Wisconsin is further proof that they're planning to strip gay families of existing health care if the civil unions and marriage ban becomes part of our constitution.

Rick Esenberg said...

Todd, a pro-abortion rights group could presumably require that a person be committed to abortion rights because that would not constitute religious discrimination, but political discrimination which isn't prohibited.

This "anti-discrimination" business is a ruse to deny equal access to groups with a disfavored position. It is extremely unlikely that any gay person will want to work for the Christian Legal Society, just like no pro-lifer is going to want a job at NARAL.

As for ADF, you could be right except that the head of its marriage project has endorsed Colorado's reciprocal benefits law. While I appreciate that such a law is unacceptable to advocates of same sex marriage for a variety of reasons, it would proabably protect existing health benefits which are extended by those employers who want to extend them.

Todd said...

Rick,

I agree with you. Self selection by employees of political and religious organizations will lead to optimal results for all involved. There are all kinds of legally viable ways to determine an appropriate new hire without relying on blanket discrimination against all non-Christians or all Mexican-Americans or what have you. That's why there's no reason for a nonprofit not to adhere to formal nondiscrimination criteria and thereby qualify to participate in the program.

Re. ADF, I don't understand your reasoning. What does Glen Lavy's support for the Colorado proposal (which has nothing to do with benefits) have to do with whether or not he'll sue the cities of Madison and Milwaukee for their domestic partnership programs? It should be noted that he's involved (as amicus) in a suit attempting to deny d.p. programs to all public employees in Michigan and that he's suing Miami University in Ohio because of its d.p. program. His reason? Those programs create a "legal status" substantially similar to marriage, which in Ohio and Michigan is now unconstitutional. I know this because I've read ADF's press releases.

Rick Esenberg said...

Todd

The Colorado law has everything to do with benefits. As I understand it, it allows people to enter into reciprocal benefit agreements that will have some immediate legal consequences and then can be recognized (or not)by employers who wish to extend health insurance and other benefits to those who enter into such agreements. I understand that the "or not" will be objected to by some, but it really does get us to what the legal situation is in most places. Employers are not required to extend benefits to same sex couples, but are free to do so.