FFRF Goes After Wisconsin Technical Colleges for Violating Good Friday Court Order

15 Out of 16 Close for Good Friday

(Madison, Wis.) The Freedom From Religion Foundation, which won a solid federal court victory in 1996 overturning a state law declaring Good Friday a state holiday, is lodging a complaint with the Wisconsin Technical College System, and 15 of the 16 public-supported technical colleges in Wisconsin over noncompliance with the Good Friday court order.

The Foundation was tipped off by a student at the Mid-State Technical College in Wisconsin Rapids, who was shocked to discover that her technical college stays open on the federal holiday to honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. this upcoming Monday, but closes for Good Friday. The college's academic calendar refers to the scheduled April 10 closing as "Good Friday."

An investigation into the calendars of other public technical colleges in the state reveals that only Northeast Wisconsin Technical College in Green Bay stays open on Good Friday. Milwaukee Area Technical College commences its spring break on Good Friday, a calendar manipulation which the Foundation is also objecting to.

The Good Friday law was unconstitutional because it mandated that citizens "shall worship" between particular hours on Good Friday and that public facilities should close that afternoon. Public university students, library-users and other citizens trying to do government business routinely complained to the Foundation about the law. The Foundation, with state workers and taxpayer plaintiffs, sued and won a handy victory in February 1996, when U.S. District Court John Shabaz declared the Good Friday state holiday unconstitutional. The decision was not appealed, despite the blustering vow of then-Gov. Tommy Thompson to take the case all the way to the Supreme Court. The state subsequently gave state workers a roving half-day holiday to be taken at their discretion.

Foundation staff attorney Rebecca Kratz noted in her letter to Daniel Clancy, president of the Wisconsin Technical College System, and Brent Smith, president of the Wisconsin Technical College System Board, that "15 out of the 16 technical colleges in the Wisconsin Technical College System are closed in observance of the Christian holy day, Good Friday, which is April 10 this year."

She added: "Wisconsin technical colleges must comply with the Good Friday Court Order and remain open for regularly scheduled classes."

"MATC does not cancel classes for Yom Kippur, Ramadan or any other non-Christian religions, correct?" Kratz wrote Dr. Bettsey l. Barhorst, president of Madison Area Technical College, in a letter of complaint.

In the case of Mid-State Technical College in Wisconsin Rapids, Kratz noted in her letter to Dr. John Clark that failing to close for the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., but closing for Good Friday, "shows preference for a Christian holiday over a federal secular holiday."

"We have always had scattered reports of noncompliance around the state," said Foundation co-president Annie Laurie Gaylor, one of the plaintiffs in the 1996 lawsuit, "but 13 years is too long to wait for tax-supported technical colleges in the state to get the message!"

The Foundation is contacting all of the administrators of public technical schools in violation of the court order, asking to assured by early February that they will comply with the Good Friday court order.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, based in Madison, Wis., is a national association of freethinkers (atheists, agnostics) that has been working since 1978 to keep church and state separate.
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The Freedom From Religion Foundation, based in Madison, Wis., a 501(c)(3) nonprofit educational charity, is the nation's largest association of freethinkers (atheists, agnostics), and has been working since 1978 to keep religion and government separate.

FFRF is a non-profit, educational organization. All dues and donations are deductible for income-tax purposes.

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