The Freedom From Religion Foundation continues to challenge a discriminatory church discount that rewards people who attend Catholic Mass with free Sunday admission at Irish Fest in Milwaukee.
This year the annual event is Aug. 16-19 at the city-owned Henry Maier Festival Park. FFRF, a national nonprofit with more than 18,500 members and about 1,400 in Wisconsin, sent its first letter of complaint about the discount in 2010, when officials refused to address the complaint.
Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott followed up with a letter Aug. 9 to Kathy Pratscher, interim executive director, on behalf of a local complainant, who has been bothered for years by the discrimination. The fest's website says, "Guests who donate nonperishable food items prior to the liturgy are admitted to the festival free of charge after the Mass."
Elliott noted, "This means that only those who would conceivably attend or want to attend the Catholic Mass can receive this major benefit. Therefore, you are discriminating on the basis of religion." He added that "the additional condition of bringing in a food item for donation does not absolve Irish Fest from violations of state and federal civil rights laws."
Under Wisconsin law, it's illegal to "Deny to another or charge another a higher price than the regular rate for the full and equal enjoyment of any public place of accommodation or amusement because of sex, race, color, creed, disability, sexual orientation, national origin or ancestry." It's also illegal to "Give preferential treatment to some classes of persons in providing services or facilities in any public place of accommodation or amusement because of sex, race, color, creed, sexual orientation, national origin or ancestry."
Elliott further wrote, "Patrons who are nonreligious or not Catholic and do not wish to attend Bishop Malloy’s Mass are not treated equally and will have to pay $15."
FFRF is committed to helping complainants file public accommodations complaints with the state Department of Workforce Development's Equal Rights Division should the violation continue. "One solution would be for all attendees to be able to donate items for free admittance by 11 a.m. or at any time of entry. This will ensure that Irish Fest is equally welcoming to those of all religions and no religion."
Elliott said the practice is widespread in Wisconsin and is becoming more common. "Oshkosh Irish Fest offered free admission to Mass attendees in 2009 and 2010. Polish Fest in Milwaukee offers reduced admission to Mass attendees. German Fest in Milwaukee hosts a Mass in the Marcus Amphitheater and promotes it by saying, 'All church attendees receive free admission to the Fest.' Festa Italiana offers this promotion: 'FREE admission to Festa when you attend High Mass at 11 a.m. in the Marcus Amphitheater.' ”
Annie Laurie Gaylor, FFRF co-president, noted that dropping the practice will also help ensure the Hunger Task Force has a successful food drive. "The current policy is a disincentive since three-fourths of Wisconsin citizens aren't Catholic."
Given their history, you'd think the Irish would be more sensitive about discrimination in the U.S., including religious discrimination.