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The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


Debating church and UW

[media-credit name=’BEN CLASSON/Herald photo’ align=’alignright’ width=’336′]FRFF_BC[/media-credit]Members standing on polar opposite sides of the separation of church and state debate recreated the age-old whirlwind of controversy at a panel discussion Tuesday night in Memorial Union.

The discussion, "Unholy Alliance: Religion & Politics," was hosted by the Wisconsin Union Directorate and welcomed Annie Gaylor, director of the Freedom From Religion Foundation — a national organization of atheists, agnostics and freethinkers based in Madison — as well as Tim Kruse, president of the University of Wisconsin Roman Catholic Foundation — the self-proclaimed largest student organization on campus.

Both Gaylor and Kruse described their separate federal lawsuits currently pending in the U.S. Supreme Court.


"This is a passionate, emotional issue, with a clash of ideas and thoughts," said UW political science professor Donald Downs, who moderated the discussion. "UW is the No. 1 place for First Amendment issues (and) student speech codes."

Kruse presented the history behind his case before the Supreme Court, based on the standards the university used to fund UWRCF through the Associated Students of Madison Student Services Finance Committee.

With roughly 30 percent of students at the university self-identifying as Catholic, Kruse said the views are restricted from segregated fees.

"They cannot exclude religious groups from the forum," Kruse said. "If you're going to have the fee collected, it needs to be available. Religion enriches the marketplace of ideas."

Kruse added they were subjected to stiff competition from SSFC members and UW administration when the organization applied for activity funds not directly tied to worship.

Gaylor countered Kruse's argument by citing the danger of government-funded religions and launched into a discussion of the separation of church and state.

With several Supreme Court cases filed against the Bush administration, Gaylor also explained the idea of "faith czars at the White House," where Gaylor said faith-based initiatives are holding the hands of religious organizations in an "unprecedented violation of the separation of church and state."

"George Bush has changed the rules. They have gotten plenty of funding," Gaylor said. "It didn't need to be fixed, there should be no proselytizing."

UW political science professor emeritus Booth Fowler was also on hand to challenge both arguments as a neutral party.

Fowler criticized Gaylor for taking an aggressive tact with her arguments, but also turned to Kruse, suggesting he consider possible corruption from state dollars in his organization.

"Two interest groups are pushing and fighting … that's the American political way," Fowler said. "I'm a little sorry they spend so much time running into the courts."

Although disrupted by several emotional outbursts, the discussion eventually entered a question-and-answer session, where several members of the community expressed their displeasure with Kruse's viewpoint.

UW student Josh Moss conversely questioned Gaylor's arguments and said the event overall was a success, but revealed a weak point in the FFRF idea.

"I think it went rather well," Moss said. "It mostly showed for the secular side, that there is no room for compromise, and I think that's sad."

UW political science professor John Coleman said the debate was interesting despite making his "blood boil" at certain points.

"I think the discussion was balanced, I thought at times the questioning lost focus of what the specific issues were," Coleman said. "They tended to view everything as an establishment question when in fact that isn't what the Catholic foundation is making."

When asked if the segregated-fee distribution system should be abandoned altogether, Gaylor said the possibility should be considered.

"With the terrible mess that has been opened, that might be the only way out of it," she said.

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