Victory for freedom of speech, religion: Supreme Court lets ruling stand on funding of Catholic student group Print
Written by Mary C. Uhler   
Thursday, Mar. 17, 2011 -- 12:00 AM

In recent years, the number of students attending Mass and Bible studies at St. Paul’s has grown tremendously. Plans are underway to build a new student center to provide residences for students, a new chapel, and opportunities for even more learning and outreach to the community.

St. Paul’s mission statement

The mission statement of St. Paul’s declares: “St. Paul University Catholic Center primarily exists to promote the spiritual welfare and moral and intellectual development of the Catholic students attending the University of Wisconsin-Madison and to provide similar services to other college students who live and study in the Madison area.”

St. Paul’s also provides spiritual support to the faculty and staff of UW-Madison and to those community members who regularly attend and support St. Paul’s.

In addition, St. Paul’s welcomes all who wish to sincerely search for the truth and hopes to form a common partnership “with any organization on campus and within the community that desires to promote the common good.”

Battle with the university over funding

St. Paul University Catholic Center and its student organization, Badger Catholic, have been involved in a battle for several years with UW-Madison over receiving funding from student fees. The university has argued that student fees should not go to fund religious programs, asserting that such funding would violate the establishment clause of the First Amendment to the Constitution.

As we know, it is very difficult to separate “religious” programs and services from supposedly “nonreligious” programs and service. And doesn’t our Constitution guarantee freedom of speech and religion in any case?

Favorable court rulings

On August 30, 2010, the U.S. Court of Appeals ruled that the UW should provide student fees to all of the activities of the Badger Catholic. The university appealed the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court. On March 7, 2011, the Supreme Court declined to hear the university’s appeal, thus upholding the ruling in favor of the Badger Catholic.

“The constitutional rights of Christian student organizations should be recognized by university officials just as they recognize those rights for other student groups," said Alliance Defense Fund (ADF) Senior Counsel Jordan Lorence. “The 7th Circuit’s decision was a good one for the constitutionally protected free speech rights of students, so the high court did the right thing in allowing it to stand.”

This is good news for Catholic students at UW-Madison. It is also a victory for freedom of speech and religion for Catholic student organizations throughout the country which might have faced similar efforts to deny funding.

Support for building project

Plans for the new St. Paul Catholic  Student Center and Residential College are being reviewed by the Landmarks, Urban Design, and Planning Commissions before going to the Madison Common Council for approval. Community support is crucial. For more on the new building project, go to