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If a church-affiliated charity offers the same services as a secular charity, should it still be seen as religious?

A divided Wisconsin Supreme Court said no last week in a ruling that sparked intense debate about the future of faith-based tax breaks.

Judges in the majority said that a Catholic organization should no longer be granted a religious exemption by the state, since its efforts to serve the poor are not “primarily” religious.

“They offer services that would be the same regardless of the motivation of the provider, a strong indication that the sub-entities do not ‘operate primarily for religious purposes,’” Justice Ann Walsh Bradley wrote for the majority, according to The Associated Press.

The case is thought to be the first of its kind. Previous faith-related financial battles have generally centered on property taxes, while this one is focused on unemployment tax.

In property tax lawsuits, judges consider whether the land is not just owned by a religious organization, but also used by that organization for religious purposes, The Associated Press reported.

Similarly, in the Wisconsin case, judges weighed whether the Catholic charity’s work is motivated by religious teachings and whether its services are religious in nature.

“The record demonstrates that (Catholic Charities Bureau) and the sub-entities, which are organized as separate corporations apart from the church itself, neither attempt to imbue program participants with the Catholic faith nor supply any religious materials to program participants or employees,” Bradley wrote.

If Thursday’s ruling stands, the bureau will have to begin paying into Wisconsin’s unemployment system. Currently, the organization uses an unemployment program run by the Catholic Church, per Catholic News Agency.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is among those celebrating the ruling, since it believes that offering tax exemptions to religious charities like the Catholic Charities Bureau is a slippery slope.

“If the charity groups had prevailed, the next step would be arguments to exempt religious hospitals and colleges, such as Marquette University, from paying the unemployment tax,” a foundation representative told The Associated Press.

But many others have decried Thursday’s Wisconsin Supreme Court ruling, arguing that justices in the majority misunderstood and mischaracterized the work of faith-based charities.

“The Wisconsin Supreme Court got this case dead wrong,” said Eric Rassbach, vice president and senior counsel at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, the firm representing Catholic Charities and its subentities, to The Associated Press.

The Catholic Charities Bureau plans to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Fresh off the press

Most U.S. Christians hold unfavorable view of President Joe Biden, Pew finds

How faith groups rate former President Donald Trump

Term of the week: the nones

I know what you’re thinking: “I already know about the nones!” After all, it’s only been two months since I wrote about an in-depth survey of religiously unaffiliated Americans.

I’m revisiting the phrase because I stumbled on a fun alternate definition for it on Friday. Apparently, ancient Romans referred to a specific day of each month as “the nones,” just as they referred to the middle of the month as “the ides.”

So March 7 was/is the nones of March and March 15 was/is the ides of March. In shorter months like April, the nones shifts to the 5th, while the ides shifts to the 13th.

Shoutout to Stylebot’s weekly newsletter for bringing all this to my attention.

Here’s the newsletter’s full rundown of how ancient Romans split up a month: “The first day of the month was the ‘calends,’ followed by a period known as ‘before the nones.’ After the nones … came the period simply known as ‘before the ides.’ That, of course, was followed by the ‘ides,’ which falls on the 15th day in months with 31 days. Following the ides, we have ‘before the calends,’ as the calends would then be the first day of the next month.”

What I’m reading…

Do you think nonreligious liberals have gone too far in their effort to keep public institutions secular? You’re not alone. A new Pew Research Center survey on religion and politics found that 50% of U.S. adults feel that way. But there’s a catch: Nearly as many Americans (48%) are frustrated with conservative Christians doing the opposite by allowing more religious displays in schools and government buildings.

The Associated Press recently offered an on-the-ground look at an Amish mud sale, an annual event during which Amish families sell food and used farm equipment to raise money.

Curious how BYU basketball’s Aly Khalifa did during his first fasting game? My colleague Jackson Payne wrote about Khalifa’s Ramadan experiences amid last week’s Big 12 tournament.

Odds and ends

My favorite professional organization, Religion News Association, turns 75 this year! If you’re interested in supporting its future, consider buying some RNA-themed shirts or accessories.

Are you filling out a March Madness bracket this week? Sports and religion scholar Paul Putz tweeted Sunday night about the teams in the men’s tournament that are somehow tied to organized religion.

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