Judge: Charity Program Can't Exclude Faith-Based Charities

Oct 06, 2006 12:04 PM EDT

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — A state-run program allowing employees to donate part of their paychecks to charity may not exclude religious charities on grounds that the groups use religion as a basis for employment or membership on their governing boards, a federal judge has ruled.

The Association of Faith-Based Organizations, a coalition based in Springfield, Va., filed the lawsuit in the spring.

It challenges an annual program, called State Employees Combined Campaign, that allows state workers to direct payroll deductions to charities that are deemed eligible by a state committee.

The faith-based groups alleged they were wrongly left off the list of potential recipients under a rule requiring them to adopt an anti-discrimination policy.

"Excluding a religious charitable organization from participation in the Wisconsin State Employees Combined Campaign solely because that organization discriminates on the basis of religion or creed in choosing its governing board and employees is constitutionally impermissible," U.S. District Judge John C. Shabaz wrote in a decision issued Sept. 29.

The charity program has existed since the 1970s. Thousands of state and University of Wisconsin employees give every year to hundreds of charities. About 10,000 state employees donated $2.8 million through deductions from their paychecks in 2005.

The state had argued that excluding religious charitable organizations was following state policy against religious discrimination, and that the presence of religious charities might prompt some state employees not to give.

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