Watchdog Group Calls on State to Keep Ceremony Secular

Objection to Religion at Wisconsin's Upcoming National Day of Remembrance for Murder Victims Commemoration

"The Office of Crime Victims Services necessarily serves a diverse population, many of whom are not Christian or do not recognize the 'Father' of the hymn, and some of whom certainly do not find solace for personal tragedy in other peoples' religious assertions--much less state-hosted religious ritual and professions of faith."

(MADISON, WIS.) The Freedom From Religion Foundation has contacted Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen following complaints about religion permeating the schedule of the upcoming first National Day of Remembrance for Murder Victims commemoration, to gather at the Capitol rotunda on Sept. 25.

The Central Wisconsin Chapter of Parents of Murdered Children, which is cohosting the event, receives federal Victim of Crime Act funding through the Justice Department. That public sponsorship "obliges it to be free of partisan or religious bent," according to Foundation co-president Annie Laurie Gaylor in her letter of complaint to Van Hollen.

The Foundation objected to the scheduling of a Christian hymn, "This Too Shall Pass," by a soloist identified as a member of a church choir, and a closing prayer by Pastor Charles Peterson, Christ Lutheran Church.

"The murder of a child is a horrible trauma for any parent, regardless of religious or nonreligious background, to endure," Gaylor wrote the Attorney General. "The Office of Crime Victims Services necessarily serves a diverse population, many of whom are not Christian or do not recognize the 'Father' of the hymn, and some of whom certainly do not find solace for personal tragedy in other peoples' religious assertions--much less state-hosted religious ritual and professions of faith. In fact, to nonreligious families, being told 'He'll never give you more than you can bear/This too shall pass/So in this thought be comforted/It's in His Hands' would further traumatize them, insult their personal beliefs, and offend them by advancing the idea that the murder of their beloved child was part of a deity's plan!"

Grieving and vulnerable families should not be proselytized by state government, she added, noting that there are nearly limitless religious resources and opportunities for parents to seek private religious solace.

State employees have the right to be free from religion while performing official state duties, Gaylor added. "The State of Wisconsin should not be hosting or cohosting any event which makes either its clients or its staff feel excluded by virtue of personal conscience, which inflicts religion or which favors religion over nonreligion."

The Foundation sought assurance that religious ritual and song would be omitted from the ceremony.

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.

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