EAU CLAIRE, Wis. — A faith-based advocacy group has filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of two University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire students whose community service doesn’t count toward graduation because it involved teaching religious doctrine at a church.
The university requires 30 hours of “service learning activity” before graduation.
“If the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire wants to require its students to perform community service, then it must treat all forms of community service as equally valuable and equally worthwhile.”
“This kind of animosity toward religion, this kind of discrimination towards religion, is unconstitutional,” the Alliance Defending Freedom, which is representing the students, said in a statement.
Assistant Chancellor Mike Rindo tells WQOW-TV that the university’s guidebook says time spent promoting religious doctrine or worship won’t be counted. In this case, one student was assisting a second-grade religion class at Newman Parish. The other was teaching Sunday School at the same church.
The Newman Parish is located at the university’s Ecumenical Religious Center. It provides regular Mass and a variety of formation experiences for students, and it also supports the Regis Catholic School system in Eau Claire.
University officials defended the exclusion of activities at the parish from the community service requiremement.
“Service learning does allow for students to work with religious affiliated organizations to complete their service learning project, but it has to be done in a way that it meets the criteria of service learning, which is taking the knowledge you’ve applied in the classroom or learned in the classroom and applying that to your service learning project,” Rindo said.
Students are encouraged to work with their advisers to get prior approval of their service work, the university said. The lawsuit filed on behalf of students Alexandra Liebl and Madelyn Rysavy was filed in the Western District of U.S. District Court.