When St. Ambrose Academy, a Catholic school with 66 families and a shoestring budget, took on Dane County, with their virtually limitless access to tax dollars, some questioned how long David could stand up to Goliath. In a matter of days, a grassroots force of over 850 joined the fight by contributing thousands of dollars that would ensure that the Academy could confidently move ahead with legal action to open religious schools in Dane County. You are here because you have been energized by this groundswell of support – and we are profoundly grateful!
Widespread news coverage and our press releases detail the progression of events as the Academy and our partners continued to band together to allow parents – the primary educators of their children – the options that were best for their families.
Oral arguments were heard by the Wisconsin Supreme Court on Tuesday, December 8, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.
Our attorney, Misha Tseytlin of Troutman Pepper law firm, presented an argument focusing on the religious-liberty constitutional issues, Rick Esenberg from the Wisconsin Institute For Law & Liberty presented an argument focusing on the statutory issues, and Joe Voiland briefly presented an argument that focused on the harms of remote learning to his client.
Overall, the argument went very well for our side. On the religious-liberty issues, a number of the Justices appeared supportive (based on their questioning) of our position and expressed doubt about Dane County’s position. In particular, the Court seemed very willing to accept (consistent with the Court’s past cases) that the Wisconsin Constitution is more protective of religious liberty than the federal constitution, and that we prevail under that more-protective understanding.
On the statutory issues, three of the Justices who voted in favor of granting our temporary injunction in the Fall appeared to continue to express their support for reading the statute as prohibiting Dane County’s actions here. The Justices who voted against granting us a temporary injunction continued to express their view that the statute authorized Dane County’s actions.
A video recording of the full oral argument may be found at this link (after creating a free Wisconsin Eye account): https://wiseye.org/2020/12/08/wisconsin-supreme-court-oral-argument-st-ambrose-academy-inc-v-joseph-t-parisi/.
From this point, the Court took the case under advisement with follow-up including the issue of a written decision. Though the timeline was unknown, ranging from a few months or possibly up until the end of July 2021 (the end of the Court’s term), the previously issued injunction allowed St. Ambrose Academy and all schools in Dane County the ability to operate in-person schooling.
We continue to be grateful to the Wisconsin Supreme Court for striking down Emergency Order #9 on both statutory and constitutional grounds on Friday, June 11, 2021. In addition to being able to offer families an important in-person educational option, we established precedent in case law for religious liberty and parental rights in this state for the rest of its existence.
St. Ambrose students thrived because of in-person learning during the 2020-2021 academic year. Despite the challenges, such as the extra financial commitment needed to lease and open a second building to comply with county regulations, the year will forever be remembered as one filled with grace, joy, and the bonds of community.
Our plea for upholding the right to educate our children as we see fit was presented before the Court on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, and our victory was declared on the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Our school strives daily to bring students to the Sacred Heart of Jesus through the Immaculate Heart of Mary. We are here to guide them to form their hearts like those of Jesus and Mary. God’s timing for this court case couldn’t have been more perfect. Deo gratias!
So what’s next?
There are three primary needs that the Academy continues to have. If you have been energized by the Academy’s challenge to re-open schools in Dane County, we hope you will join us in one or more of the following ways.
- Costs associated with the County’s orders for schools: we are approaching $100,000 in expenses to ensure that the Academy is in compliance with local orders including leasing an extra building to ensure social distancing, telecommunications and minor renovations to equip this building, plus the purchase of many supplies for hygiene, cleaning, and protective measures. Gifts of all sizes will defray the burden of these costs on our tight budget.
- Vital tuition assistance for families in need: The Academy is firmly committed to supporting families seeking a strong, liberal arts Catholic education for their children and does not turn away any family for lack of ability to afford tuition. With over half of current students receiving tuition assistance – with awards averaging $5,000 per student – the need is great. The result is that even more families in south-central Wisconsin can be formed as disciples of Christ, equipped to lead a life of seeking the common good through servant leadership. Gifts made today to support our tuition assistance funds – or even starting a new scholarship – will directly impact these students.
- Finding a new home for St. Ambrose Academy: The Academy has benefited from donated parish space for many years but that space was no longer be available beginning in September 2021. A campaign to raise $7.5 million is underway to acquire land and construct a school to continue the Academy’s growth and provide generations of students with intellectual, emotional, spiritual and moral formation they need to champion human rights, freedom and responsibility as active and integrated members of society. In the interim, we have secured a lease at a fantastic location that will allow ALL of our students to be in the same building, something that hasn’t happened since March 2020. Click here if you wish to learn more about and/or support the Christ Our Light campaign with a gift to create a permanent home for the Academy.
This moment is an example of what we have known all along – that even a small, Christ-centered band of people can have an outsized impact on the world around them. You are proof of that. Our alumni – well-formed, passionate, responsible young adults who are rooting themselves in communities around the state and country – are proof of that.
Thank you for standing with St. Ambrose Academy. Your support means the world to us and we continue to offer prayers of thanksgiving for you. Continue to pray with us, through the intercession of St. Ambrose, St. Thomas More and all the saints, that our efforts to re-open religious schools in Dane County will inspire the young generations to always stand for their beliefs, no matter the cost.