On behalf of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Madison, Wisconsin and Bishop Donald J. Hying, Sidley secured the reversal of a discriminatory policy in Madison and Dane County, Wisconsin that prevented houses of worship from reopening on equal footing with businesses under the county’s COVID-19 phased reopening plan. Now, thanks to efforts led by the Sidley team in partnership with The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty and two other firms, houses of worship will be able to hold services at up to 25% of their capacity, the same as movie theaters, shopping malls, bowling alleys and restaurants. The previous order imposed a 50-person cap on religious gatherings, even in churches with more than a thousand seats, and did not limit the routine operations of any other type of organization.
The Diocese praised the Sidley team for securing the favorable outcome with “professionalism, faithfulness, (and the) ability to work under pressure.”
The policy reversal came in an emergency order signed Friday, two days after Sidley sent a letter to local officials explaining that “basic equality and honest science, not to mention the special solicitude afforded to religious freedom under both the U.S. and Wisconsin constitutions, require the end of your discriminatory policy.” The letter received widespread attention, including from the Wall Street Journal and the Catholic News Agency, and Wisconsin media including the Wisconsin State Journal, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, and NBC and Fox affiliates in Madison.
Two weeks ago, working on behalf of Catholic and Lutheran leaders, the same Sidley team achieved a major policy change in Minnesota to ensure equal treatment of houses of worship in the state’s COVID-19 reopening plan. In Minnesota, as in Wisconsin, government officials abandoned their discriminatory policy just days after Sidley sent them a letter explaining their constitutional obligation to treat houses of worship fairly and respect religious liberty.
The Sidley team working on behalf of Diocese of Madison included Mark Hopson, Gordon Todd, Dino LaVerghetta, Lucas Croslow, Cody Reaves, James Hasson and Brooke Boyd, all in Washington, D.C.