Press Release

Wisconsin Supreme Court to decide if serving the poor is religious Catholic ministry heads to court to explain how charity can be religious

Media Contact

Ryan Colby 202-349-7219

Additional Information

WASHINGTON – A Catholic ministry will be in the Wisconsin Supreme Court next week to explain that its care for the poor, the elderly, and the disabled are 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, Wisconsin, by helping the disabled, the 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 non-profits are generally exempt under Wisconsin law from the state’s unemployment program, allowing them to join other unemployment compensation programs. A lower court in the state, however, 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. 

Oral Argument in Catholic Charities Bureau v. Wisconsin Labor & Industrial Review Commission

Arguing before the court:
Eric Rassbach, vice president & senior counsel at Becket

Monday, September 11, 2023, anticipated start time of 11:00 a.m. CT

Wisconsin Supreme Court
16 East State Capitol
Madison, WI 53701 

Becket attorneys will be available for comment following the hearing. 

For more information or to arrange an interview with a Becket attorney, contact Ryan Colby atmedia@becketlaw.orgor 202-349-7219.Interviews can be arranged in English, Mandarin, French, German, Portuguese, Russian, and Spanish.