St. Augustine v. Taylor

Case Name: St. Augustine School v. Carolyn Stanford Taylor, Superintendent

Type of Case: Religious Freedom

Court: Washington County Circuit Court; E.D. Wisconsin District Court

Case Number: 2016-CV-225 (State Circuit Court); 2016-CV-575 (Federal District Court); 17-2333 (Seventh Circuit)

Filed On: April 8, 2016

Current Status: Case removed to federal court; Seventh Circuit upheld dismissal of federal claims; certiorari petition filed

Press Releases

WILL APPEALS RELIGIOUS LIBERTY CASE TO U.S. SUPREME COURT

March 25, 2022 | WILL filed a petition for writ of certiorari to the United States Supreme Court in St. Augustine v. Underly, urging the high court to review whether the Wisconsin Superintendent of Public Instruction violated the First Amendment when it withheld transportation benefits from an independent Catholic school unless it agreed not to call itself “Catholic.” The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals issued a decision in December that DPI violated the law, but did not resolve the core constitutional questions of religious liberty at stake in the case.

FEDERAL COURT OF APPEALS RULES DPI VIOLATED STATE LAW WHEN DENYING TRANSPORTATION BENEFITS TO PRIVATE SCHOOL FAMILIES

December 21, 2021 | A three-judge panel of the federal Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals issued a decision in St. Augustine v. Underly, a lawsuit first filed by the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (WILL) in 2016, that the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (DPI) violated state law when denying transportation benefits to families attending St. Augustine School, an independent Catholic school in Washington County.

WISCONSIN SUPREME COURT TO HEAR ARGUMENTS IN WILL RELIGIOUS LIBERTY LAWSUIT

February 26, 2021 | The Wisconsin Supreme Court granted a request from the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, Thursday, to consider a question of Wisconsin state law in St. Augustine v. Taylor, a religious liberty lawsuit first filed by the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (WILL) in 2016.

U.S. SUPREME COURT ORDERS SEVENTH CIRCUIT TO RECONSIDER DECISION IN WILL RELIGIOUS LIBERTY CASE

July 6, 2020 | The Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty’s (WILL) religious liberty lawsuit, St. Augustine v. Taylor, was remanded by the United States Supreme Court back to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals for reconsideration.

WILL ASKS U.S. SUPREME COURT TO REVIEW RELIGIOUS LIBERTY CASE

March 14, 2019 | WILL is asking the United States Supreme Court to review St. Augustine v. Taylor, a suit that poses critical questions on the relationship between religious liberty and government benefits. In 2016, WILL filed a suit on behalf of St. Augustine School, an independent Catholic school in Hartford, Wisconsin, against the Friess Lake School District and the state Department of Public Instruction because they were denying their students transportation rights by determining the meaning of the word “Catholic.”

WILL SUES SUPERINTENDENT EVERS FOR RELIGIOUS FREEDOM VIOLATIONS

April 12, 2016 | On behalf of a private school and the parents of three children who attend the school, the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (WILL) has filed a lawsuit against Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers and Friess Lake School District for unconstitutionally declaring “who or what is Catholic.”

Wisconsin law, recognizing the importance of keeping children safe, requires local school districts to provide transportation for all children who reside in the district, even if they go to private schools.  That law also prohibits private schools in the same religious denomination from having overlapping attendance zones – two Lutheran schools in the same district, for example, have to “split” the district between them.  But in order to keep the government from being entangled in thorny questions of what it really means to be “Lutheran” (or any religion), the Wisconsin Supreme Court has interpreted the law to apply to schools that operate within the same legal organization – religious or not.

However, the Friess Lake School District and the Department of Public Instruction have decided to ignore this requirement.  Instead, they lumped St. Augustine School – which teaches with a “catholic” mission but operates independently from actual archdiocesan schools – together with a different archdiocesan school in the district, denying bussing to St. Augustine children.

WILL filed a lawsuit in state court, arguing that Friess Lake and the DPI are violating state law and the First Amendment by trying to decide what is and isn’t catholic.  The defendants removed the case to federal court, where the judge dismissed our federal claims and remanded the state claims to state court.  We appealed, and the Seventh Circuit panel affirmed 2-1.  We filed an en banc petition asking the entire Seventh Circuit to hear the case, and when that was denied, filed our first certiorari petition to the United States Supreme Court.

The issue became more complex when the Friess Lake School District merged with the neighboring Richfield School District to form Holy Hill Area School District.  While Richfield has previously recognized St. Augustine’s attendance zone, the combined district reversed course.  We are appealing that decision through the DPI.

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