Wisconsin Labor and Industry Review Commission --
Summary of Wisconsin Court Decision relating to Unemployment Insurance

Subject: Soldiers Of Jesus Christ, Inc. v. LIRC, DWD and Kenneth H. Kube (Case 98-CV-187, Wis. Cir. Ct., St. Croix Co., February 12, 1999), No. 99-0846, Ct. App. Dist. III, November 23, 1999, unpublished.

Please note that Wis. Stat. sec. 809.23(3) provides that an unpublished decision of the Court of Appeals is of no precedential value and for that reason may not be cited in any court in this state as precedent or authority. Summaries of unpublished Court of Appeals decisions are included in this collection as an informational service only, and their use contrary to 809.23(3) is not encouraged.

Digest Codes: ET 483.01

The claimant worked for about nine months performing telemarketing,, fundraising, and construction work for the employer. The employer is a "Christian Boarding School" as described by the founder and operator, Sortedahl. It takes in students who have been in trouble with the law, or in their homes or communities. The students live at the school for one year where they take academic subjects, and the curriculum includes "cross-denominational" Christian services twice a day. Sortedahl indicates that he preaches Bible but does not follow any particular religious doctrine. The school operates mainly on donations which it receives from various sources. Tuition is charged according to ability to pay. The appeal tribunal decision and the commission each found that the school was not a church, was not operated primarily for religious purposes, and was not operated, controlled, or principally supported by a church or association of churches, as is required for excluded employment under Wis. Stat. 108.02 (15)(h). The employer appealed and disputed all these findings.

The circuit court affirmed the commission. It held that tthe credible evidence demonstrated that the employer was unable to identify with specificity the role of religion in its "Christian curriculum." The employer's description of itself as "cross-denominational" undercut its assertion that it is a church or has a primarily religious purpose. Funding is from various sources rather than from any church or association of churches, and it is clear that the primary objective of the school is to assist troubled children and provide them with education, moral guidance, and room and board on a short-term basis. The court based its decision on the facts of the case rather than on any disputed application of the law.

Held:  The court of appeals also affirmed the commission. It held that a school cannot be defined as a “church” without being directly operated and controlled by a recognized church, and the employer demonstrated no such connection with a recognized church. The court also held that the commission was correct in noting a striking lack of evidence of the role of religion in the employer’s existence. Finally, the court agreed with the commission and the circuit court that the primary purpose of the school was to provide education as well as room and board for troubled children. The school did not have a primarily religious purpose. The court adopted the “due weight” standard of review because the commission had only faced this school/church issue once previously.

[Commission decision]

Please note that this is a summary prepared by staff of the commission, not a verbatim reproduction of the court decision.

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