Superior’s Catholic Charities Bureau seeking exemption from state unemployment system

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The Wisconsin Supreme Court is set to hear an upcoming case related to a religious exemption for Superior’s Catholic Charities Bureau, from paying into the Wisconsin state unemployment fund.

“It’s really important for Catholic Charities Bureau to be able to pay into the Wisconsin Catholic bishops own unemployment Compensation fund,” said Nick Reaves, Council for Becket Law, which represents Superior’s Catholic Diocese and the Catholic Charities Bureau. “One of the main reasons is it provides the same benefits to employees who lose their jobs, but it’s much more efficient. It allows them to use the money they’re saving to directly help the people in need, to provide more services to the elderly, to provide more food to the hungry. So it lets them really advance their mission better.”

The Wisconsin Catholic Bishop’s unemployment fund provides the same level of benefits as Wisconsin’s state unemployment program, to church employees who lose their job.

“No one disagrees that the reason why Catholic Charities Bureau is serving the elderly and providing food to the hungry is because of its religious mission,” said Reaves. “It’s directly controlled by and directly operated by the dioceses. But what Wisconsin is arguing is that its activities, its charitable activities are primarily secular, and we dispute that. It’s impossible to say that serving those in need is not religious when that was mandated by the charitable teachings of the Catholic Church.”

If denied the exemption, church representatives says their mission would be more difficult to accomplish.

“It will be more costly for Catholic Charities Bureau to serve those in need,” said Reaves. “They’ll have less funds to be able to help the hungry, help the disabled and the elderly, which is one of their key roles in the state. But in addition to that, redefining what is religious based solely on the state’s determination of what its activities are, could have a spillover effects in other laws or in other states.”

The Wisconsin department of workforce development, opposes the religious exemption for Catholic Charities Bbureau. The department of workforce development could not be reached for a comment.

Representatives for the state of Wisconsin are present their first brief before the court in two weeks, a date for arguments in the case has not yet been set.

We well keep you updated as this story develops.