UW–Eau Claire Ends Discrimination Against Faith-Based Community Service

The University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire has agreed to drop the practice of denying credit to students who fulfill its mandatory community service requirement by volunteering for faith-based activities, according to the Alliance Defending Freedom. ADF says UW-Eau Claire agreed to end the practice as part of a settlement ending a lawsuit that ADF attorneys filed on behalf of two students. Previous campus policy allowed only non-religious activity to qualify for “service-learning” credit.

UW-Eau Claire requires 30 hours of “service learning” credit for graduation. Alexandra Liebel volunteered 30 hours as a religious education teaching assistant at her local Catholic church. The university denied Liebel “service-learning” credit for those hours. ADF says university officials told Liebel that campus policy prohibited students from receiving credit for “time spent involved promoting religious doctrine, proselytizing or worship.”

Another student, Madelyn Rysavy, volunteered 24 hours at the same church. Those hours too were disallowed by the university as worthy of  “service-learning” credit.

In light of the settlement agreement reached with university officials, ADF attorneys filed a notice of voluntary dismissal Thursday in Liebl v. Schmidt with the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin.

“Faith-based service plays a vital and irreplaceable role in our communities,” said ADF Legal Counsel Travis Barham. “We commend the university for acknowledging that it cannot apply a double standard in evaluating which students should receive credit in this mandatory program. If it wants to require its students to perform community service, it must treat all forms of it as equally valuable. The Constitution prohibits public officials from targeting religious community service and treating it less favorably than other kinds. Community service—whether it’s religious or not—is still community service.”