The Freedom From Religion Foundation continues to challenge a discriminatory admission policy by Festa Italiana in Milwaukee, Wis., which offers free admission to Catholic Mass attendees for its ethnic festival on July 21.
FFRF, a state/church watchdog from Madison, Wis. with over 19,000 members, sent its first letter of complaint on Feb. 28 calling for this policy to cease. The Festa Italiana website promoted, "FREE admission to Festa when you attend High Mass at 11:00 a.m. in the Marcus Amphitheater." The normal gate price is $13 at the gate and $25 for a 3-day pass.
An attorney for Festa Italiana informed FFRF that the festival would end the discriminatory discount prior to the festival on July 21, 2013. However the July/August issue of the Italian Times says:
FFRF Staff Attorney Patrick Elliot sent a follow-up letter on July 18, illustrating that Festa Italiana has failed to end the policy: "[The FFRF] received information today that free admission to Mass attendees is still being instituted as it was in prior years. We understand that Festa Italiana is planning to give free admission to all persons at the Mass. The Festa Italiana website and publications make no reference to any type of discount offered to attendees arriving by 11:15. All other patrons of different faiths and of no religion will have no idea that they could be able to receive free admission."
Under Wisconsin law, it's 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."
FFRF has dealt with similar cases before including Irish Fest and Mexican Fiesta, both of which are hosted at the city of Milwaukee's Henry Maier Festival Park. Most ethnic festivals in Milwaukee have changed their policies so that they are open to persons not attending religious services. This includes: Irish Fest, Polish Fest, German Fest and Mexican Fiesta.
FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor stated, "Persons attending Festa Italiana on Sunday who are not granted free admission are encouraged to take action to address this discriminatory practice. FFRF expects that it may pursue remedies with the Department of Workforce Development Equal Rights Division."
A serious violation of the separation between state and church looms. Senate Bill 1274 was introduced July 10. This bill proposes that churches, synagogues, mosques, temples and other places of worship destroyed or damaged by natural disasters such as Hurricane Sandy should receive federal, financial aid. The Establishment Clause firmly prohibits our government from funding religions, including the construction and repair of churches. If passed this bill would give millions of dollars of taxpayers' -your- money to organizations which already receive substantial tax-exempt charitable donations.
Citizens should not have to fund a religion that they do not participate in! Call, write or email your senator telling them to vote NO on S.1274!
• The bill was assigned to the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs. Please contact the committee member chair, or your senator if he or she sits on the committee. (Phone, email and/or tweet). There are 9 Democrats and 8 Republicans.
Chair: Tom Carper, D- Delaware
• Contact your own senators. We encourage both phoning the D.C. office and following up with email or tweet:
You can track this bill yourself online (sign up here).
Please continue to respond in a timely fashion to news developments if this bill moves out of committee. It's helpful to send a letter to the editor about why you oppose such funding and to use social media or social networks or on comment sections at online news sources to influence public opinion.
Read FFRF's previous action alert over a similar bill this spring outlining the concerns and dangers.
Thank you for taking swift action to safeguard an essential principle of our secular government.