Archdiocese sues Wisconsin over prisoner visit restrictions

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — The Archdiocese of Milwaukee filed a lawsuit Friday demanding state corrections officials relax COVID-19 protocols and allow ministers to visit inmates.

The archdiocese alleges in the filing that the Department of Corrections adopted a policy in March 2020 banning volunteer visits. The policy has prevented clergy from the archdiocese from meeting in-person with inmates to provide spiritual guidance, communion and penance, violating a state law that grants clergy of all faiths weekly visits with prisoners and inmates’ constitutional right to freedom of religion.

Attorneys and DOC employees such as psychologists and social workers have been allowed to see inmates since March 2020 if the visitors follow health and safety protocols such as temperature checks, COVID-19 tests and masks, according to the lawsuit. But those protocols don’t apply to clergy, the archdiocese contends.

Corrections spokesman John Beard didn’t immediately respond to an email seeking comment on the lawsuit.

The lawsuit demands that a judge order the DOC to allow clergy to visit prisoners immediately.

Conservative law firm Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty filed the lawsuit on behalf of the archdiocese in Jefferson County.