University of Wisconsin Can't Deny Funds to Groups Based on Religious Content

Federal case law summary: First Amendment, content discrimination.

Badger Catholic, Inc., v. Walsh. MN TOPIC

University of Wisconsin collects student fees, which it distributes to a number of student organizations to offset the cost of speech on such topics as sustainable agriculture, social justice, healthy sexuality, etc. Badger Catholic, a religious student organization, applied for funds, some of which were rejected on the grounds that funds were not allowed for prayer, proselytizing, or religious instruction.

The District court entered declaratory judgment providing that University must reimburse Badger Catholic on the same basis as other groups. University appealed.

The Court of Appeals affirmed. "Once it creates a public forum, a university must accept all comers within the forum’s scope. This is why, in another decision arising from the University of Wisconsin’s fee system, we held that the University is not entitled to exercise a general discretion over which groups can draw on the funds."

Nos. 09 1102 & 09 1112, 620 F.3d 775 (7th Cir. Sept. 1, 2010).

Please see the original opinion for the court's exact language.


Richard P. Clem is an attorney and continuing legal education (CLE) provider in Minnesota. He has been in private practice in the Twin Cities for 25 years. He has a J.D., cum laude, from Hamline University School of Law in St. Paul and a B.A. in History from the University of Minnesota. His reported cases include: Asociacion Nacional de Pescadores a Pequena Escala o Artesanales de Colombia v. Dow Quimica de Colombia, 988 F.2d 559, rehearing denied, 5 F.3d 530 (5th Cir. 1993), cert. denied, 510 U.S. 1041 (1994); LaMott v. Apple Valley Health Care Center, 465 N.W.2d 585 (Minn. Ct. App. 1991); Abo el Ela v. State, 468 N.W.2d 580 (Minn. Ct. App. 1991).

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