Susan Haarman

The state government gave over $15 million worth of funding to the construction of the new dental school because it is the only dental school in the state of Wisconsin. Because it received state funding, the school is affected by a state statute that stipulates: “The dental clinic and educational facility will not be used for the purpose of devotional activities, religious worship or sectarian instruction.”

“Apparently last year several students approached Father Dorsey about the possibility of having mass in the Dental School,” said Marquette Director of University Communication Ben Tracy. “Neither he — nor the dental department or we — were aware that there was a state statute that prohibited worship in the building.”

Dorsey refused to comment on the issue.

“We were a little disappointed to lose the masses,” said Bill Rupp, dean of the Dental School. “But nothing is stopping us from having masses across the street in Mashuda.”

Tracy said the decision to cancel the masses was made to avoid breaking the law. The dental school still retains Dorsey as a chaplain, which does not seem to violate any aspect of the law. As chaplain, Dorsey provides counseling and advising to students if they approach him.

Also, the dental school does not have any crosses or crucifixes in the building or classrooms.

“That is a carry-over from the old building,” Rupp said. “We did not have crosses in any of the other rooms before.”

However, the state statute that the masses violate might actually be unconstitutional. Scott Idleman, a professor in the law school, said that if the statute really means what the university is interpreting it to mean, it might be a possible violation of religious freedom.

“It is pretty unseemly to tell a religious university that students could not worship,” Idleman said. He also pointed out that the majority of legislation that protects religious freedom does so by making sure religious ceremonies or worship is optional and that students or staff have an out.

The statute, No. 13.48, prohibits worships of any kind.

Tracy said some people at the university were aware of the possibility of the law’s unconstitutionality, but that the university was not going to do anything about it.

“The university will not be taking any action on the matter,” Tracy said.

“I think given the questionable nature of the state statute’s legal point of view, the university is being over cautious,” Idleman said. “But I do understand that the university wants to be prudential in this matter and not push the state too much.”

John Rothschild, chief legal council for the Department of Administration declined to comment on the matter. He did say that the administration assumes the legislation is constitutional.

“It is not uncommon with tax exempt financing to have certain covenants restricting activities,” Rothschild said. “The legal issue is a very complex one.”

Chris Ahmuty, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin, said he did not think the provision was necessarily unconstitutional.

“Stopping the masses to avoid breaking the law has nothing to do with whether or not the law is unconstitutional,” Ahmuty said.

Ahmuty also said this was part of a special exception to the law against giving religious institutions governmental funding.

“I find it hard to believe that Marquette did not have all its lawyers study this at the time of drafting,” Ahmuty said.

Director of University Ministry, the Rev. Ed Mathie, is trying to view the situation realistically.

“It is what it is,” Mathie said. “This is a situation where you would like to do in the dental school what we do everywhere else on campus.”