The News: 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.”
The petition for cert was filed and docketed last week.
The Case: Wisconsin provides transportation aid to qualifying private school students as long as there is not an overlapping attendance area between private schools that are affiliated with one another, or more specifically, affiliated with the same sponsoring group. In this case, DPI and Friess Lake School District denied St. Augustine students busing rights because there is an Archdiocesan Catholic school in the attendance area.
But St. Augustine is independent and unaffiliated with the Archdiocese. In this case, Friess Lake and DPI are determining the definition of Catholic and withholding government benefits until St. Augustine agrees not to call itself “Catholic.”
WILL filed the case in state court in August of 2016. It was moved to federal court where the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin ruled against St. Augustine in June 2017. In October 2018, a three judge panel at the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the lower court ruling, 2-1.
The Quote: WILL Associate Counsel Anthony LoCoco said, “This case presents critical questions about the U.S. Constitution’s religious liberty guarantees. The government is excessively entangling itself in the affairs of religious individuals and organizations and improperly penalizing these groups for exercising their religion as they see fit. It is our hope that the United States Supreme Court will recognize the disturbing precedent established by this case and consider it for review.”