University Denies Community Service Credits to Girls who Taught Religion

Two Catholic girls have sued the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire for denying them credits because teaching religion does not amount to University’s requirements for credits.

A lawsuit has been filed against the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire by the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) on behalf of two Catholic students. The two students had been teaching religion in the Catholic Church to gain community service credits required for graduation. Under the University’s current credit system, teaching is considered acceptable to receive the credit, except if the nature of the teaching is religious.

Although students can get involved in endorsing or working towards promoting their other views and beliefs, University guidelines say that the act of directly trying to promote, preach or endorse religion itself will not be considered for credit. When Alexandra Liebl, who had applied for credit after having taught religion for 30 hours in a local parish, learned that her efforts would amount to nothing, she approached the ADF for help. She was joined by one of her juniors, Madelyn Rysavy, who had already spent 24 hours in teaching catechism.

According to ADF Legal Counsel, Travis Barham, the University’s rules directly attack the religious freedom of students. He observed that the permission granted to students to work towards promoting any of their beliefs and values, except those that are religious, is a “raw favoritism of non-religious beliefs, preferences and values over religious ones.” Barham believes that as long as people do not force someone to accept their religious beliefs, everyone has the right to practice and preach their faith. As such, the fact that the University does not consider the students’ hours spent in teaching as community service is a blatant transgression of the Nation’s laws on freedom. Barham believes that the students have a strong case because the First Amendment prevents government officials from allowing them to discriminate against religious people. What the University is doing is nothing but a show of preference towards only some types of beliefs and intolerance towards others.

The University sought to defend its position on the matter. Vice Chancellor James Schmidt claimed to be unaware about any policy where religious instruction was not considered qualifying to gain credits. However, the ADF, through its attorneys who are fighting the girls’ cause, is building a case where the defendants stand accused of being aware of this blatant rejection of religious freedom, and not doing anything about it. 

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