Archdiocese of Milwaukee v. Wisconsin Department of Corrections

Case Name: Archdiocese of Milwaukee v. Wisconsin Department of Corrections

Type of Case: Religious Liberty

Court: Jefferson County Circuit Court

Case Number: 

Filed On: May 7, 2021

Current Status: Jefferson County Circuit Court Judge William Hue issued a provisional writ of mandamus on June 21, 2021 that the Wisconsin Department of Corrections (WIDOC) must provide clergy of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee with access to state correctional institutions for the purpose of conducting religious services for inmates.

Press Releases

COURT ORDERS STATE TO ALLOW MILWAUKEE ARCHDIOCESE ABILITY TO CONDUCT SERVICES IN CORRECTIONAL FACILITIES

June 21, 2021 | Jefferson County Circuit Court Judge William Hue ordered the Wisconsin Department of Corrections (WIDOC) to provide clergy of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee with access to state correctional institutions for the purpose of conducting religious services for inmates.

WILL, MILWAUKEE ARCHDIOCESE SUE WI DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS OVER UNCONSTITUTIONAL VISITOR POLICY

May 7, 2021 | WILL filed a lawsuit on behalf of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee against the Wisconsin Department of Corrections (DOC) and its Secretary, Kevin Carr, after the state agency refused to adjust an unconstitutional visitor policy that prevents in-person clergy visits to Wisconsin correctional facilities.

WILL DEMANDS WI DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS CLARIFY POLICY ON IN-PERSON CLERGY VISITS

April 1, 2021 |WILL issued a letter to Wisconsin Department of Corrections (DOC) Secretary, Kevin Carr, asking for clarification on reported DOC policies that prevent in-person clergy visits to Wisconsin correctional facilities.

The Lawsuit: The Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (WILL) filed a lawsuit on behalf of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee against the Wisconsin Department of Corrections (DOC) and its Secretary, Kevin Carr, after the state agency refused to adjust an unconstitutional visitor policy that prevents in-person clergy visits to Wisconsin correctional facilities. WILL notified the Wisconsin DOC of the problems with the policy in a letter on April 1.

Background: On March 13, 2020, the DOC announced that, “out of an abundance of caution,” in order to “minimize the risk of bringing COVID-19 (Coronavirus) into [its] facilities,” “[a]ll visits, including volunteer visits, are temporarily suspended at all Department of Corrections Institutions.” With this policy in place Wisconsin inmates have apparently been denied the ability to attend an in-person religious service led by a volunteer minister who shares their faith, or receive a sacrament administered by a volunteer minister such as communion, or even meet one-on-one with a volunteer minister for counseling.

The current DOC policy violates both state statute and the state constitutional guarantee to the free exercise of religion. In particular, Wisconsin state law, Wis. Stat. § 301.33 (“Freedom of worship; religious ministration.”), provides in part:

  1. Subject to reasonable exercise of the privilege, members of the clergy of all religious faiths shall have an opportunity, at least once each week, to conduct religious services within the state correctional institutions. Attendance at the services is voluntary.

The DOC promised to “review” its decision to suspend volunteer entry “on a daily basis.” As of this date, the policy remains in place. WILL issued a letter on April 1, demanding the DOC reassess its policy and inform WILL of any changes by April 8, 2021. The DOC declined to update its policy.

Current Status: Jefferson County Circuit Court Judge William Hue issued a provisional writ of mandamus on June 21, 2021 that the Wisconsin Department of Corrections (WIDOC) must provide clergy of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee with access to state correctional institutions for the purpose of conducting religious services for inmates.

Rick Esenberg

Rick Esenberg

President and General Counsel

rick@will-law.org

Anthony LoCoco

Anthony LoCoco

Deputy Counsel

alococo@will-law.org

Lucas Vebber

Lucas Vebber

Deputy Counsel

lucas@will-law.org