A Catholic ministry from the Diocese of Superior is in the Wisconsin Supreme Court this week to explain that its care for the poor, elderly and disabled is part of its religious mission. In Catholic Charities Bureau v. Wisconsin Labor & Industrial Review Commission, the Wisconsin Supreme Court agreed earlier this year to review a lower court decision finding that Catholic Charities Bureau’s charitable activities were not religious. This decision meant that Catholic Charities Bureau was barred from leaving the state’s unemployment compensation program and joining the Wisconsin Catholic Church’s more efficient unemployment program.
Most Catholic dioceses have a social ministry arm that serves those in need. Catholic Charities Bureau carries out this important work for the Diocese of Superior by helping the disabled, elderly, and those living in poverty, regardless of their faith. This duty to serve everyone in need comes directly from Catholic Church teaching and advances the church’s religious mission by carrying out the corporal works of mercy.
Religious nonprofits are generally exempt under Wisconsin law from the state’s unemployment program, allowing them to join other unemployment compensation programs. However, a lower court in the state ruled that Catholic Charities Bureau did not qualify for this exemption because it serves everyone, not just Catholics. In fact, the court thought that Catholic Charities Bureau could only qualify if it preached the faith to and tried to convert those it served — even though the Catholic Church teaches that care for the poor should never be conditioned on acceptance of the church’s teachings.
Eric Rassbach, vice president and senior counsel at Becket, was scheduled to argue the case Monday, Sept. 11. The Superior Catholic Herald goes to press on Monday afternoons. More on the case will be published in the Sept. 28 issue.