Our humble university has decided to capitulate and pay legal costs to an unusual group.
No, it’s not a center for diversity. And it’s not my personal party fund either.
It’s the Badger Catholic student group. In 2007, the group was turned down for a funding request for religious activities. The university had denied the group a large sum of money (something to the tune of 35,000 clams) because it is seen as “religious.” The debate quickly devolved into an argument of separation of church and state. A look at the distribution of segregated fees showed that the university had given money to them before. The report did not go into specifics, but either the group asked for money for non-religious events or the university didn’t seem to have a problem with religious activities earlier.
Of course Badger Catholic is religious, but that shouldn’t keep the university from sharing a bit of that large stack of segregated fees (the same seg fees that buy the condoms at the Sex Out Loud booth. Go grab some!). The First Amendment is quite clear about the freedom of Badger Catholic to do what it likes, and the university is wrong to deny them even the smallest fraction of the much-coveted bounty (feel free to take a look and see how much cash was collected in the name of segregated fees — more than $1 million). Segregated fees are paid with your tuition at the start of each semester. This past semester was approximately $700 per student — not a small sum if each of the 40,000 students has to pay up. What doesn’t go the Natatorium and SERF (and other maintenance items) can be distributed to those who request it.
In their attempt to turn down the church-and-state-mixing Badger Catholics, the university’s legal fees ended up coming to almost $500,000. Not only that, but they wasted a lot of time on lawyers, appeals and the 7th U.S. Circuit Court.
The university claimed that allocating money to Badger Catholic would appear as if they were endorsing the beliefs of that group. But the UW has allocated money to many groups that could be interpreted as “endorsement.” Not everyone agrees with ASM or those awesome glow-in-the-dark condoms from Sex Out Loud, yet they receive seg fee money without much hassle.
While there are no other religious groups that are currently supported (at least partially) by the segregated fees, many other secular groups are. Other groups currently funded by the segregated fees are the Wunk Sheek (a Native American group), FH King Student Farm, and the Multicultural Student Coalition. If Badger Catholic uses the money for non-religious activities, aren’t they just like these other organizations?
It seems that some priorities seem to be a bit out of order. Are we really turning down a simple request for an established religious group? There are more pressing issues that the university should be worried about (like the tangled web MCSC is going through now).
One would think this debate is the age-old argument of why tax money is spent on religions. Or you could think it’s about why religious groups need money (for food of course; I mean I personally enjoy the free sundaes). It might also seem that it’s a debate on whether or not the university is anti-Catholic. The real issue here, though, is simply the university’s judgement of the segregated fees. While some discretion should be practiced, the honest, hard-working groups who complete their paperwork on time shouldn’t be kicked aside.
Vincent Borkowski (email@example.com) is a junior majoring in neurobiology.