EAU CLAIRE, Wisconsin, November 30, 2016 (LifeSiteNews) — Students at the publicly-funded University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire are given community service credit for attending Planned Parenthood presentations but not for teaching classes to children in a Christian environment.
Two university students were refused credit for leading a class of Catholic youth to understand Christianity, Latin, and Biblical history, to improve their reading skills, and to understand character integrity and interpersonal forgiveness. Alexandra Liebl and Madelyn Rysavy concluded the university is bias against service learning in a religious environment because the classes met at a Catholic church and focused on Christian values and beliefs.
The Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) agreed with the students and filed a legal complaint alleging their constitutional rights were violated because “no public university should ever use a community service program as a vehicle to advance and instill anti-religious bias.”
To graduate, students must serve 30 hours of “service learning” in the community. The requirement “is intended to provide students with an opportunity to serve their community, apply knowledge gained in the classroom, enhance their critical thinking skills and become informed, active, and responsible citizens.”
The university specifically notes that the service does not have to be something the school endorses. The Service Learning Guidebook states that “it does not imply endorsement either of the proposed activities or of the recipient by the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.”
ADF attorney Travis Barham explained that the university's decision violates Christian students' rights because it favors non-religious service learning over religious service learning. “If the University of Wisconsin–Eau Claire wants to require its students to perform community service, it must treat all forms of community service as equally valuable,” Barham summarized.
The position of the ADF is that constitutionally a public university may not target religious community service for denial of credit. “That kind of animosity toward and discrimination against religion is unconstitutional,” Barham stated.
The position of the university is that while service-learning projects may cooperate with faith-based organizations, credit will not be given for proselytizing, which they label teaching Catholic children to be.
The ADF attorney pointed out that the university “awards credit — and even encourages students to seek credit — for activities that involve the same forms of expression (as Liebl and Rysavy's service).”
“The First Amendment prohibits government officials from preferring some viewpoints while exiling, denigrating, or targeting others,” Barham concluded. “This is raw favoritism of non-religious ‘beliefs, preferences, and values’ over religious ones, and that’s not constitutional.”
The university declined comment because the litigation is pending.