Good Friday Bad Law (September 1995)

The Freedom From Religion Foundation filed a lawsuit on September 1 in federal court in Madison, challenging Wisconsin’s unconstitutional Good Friday law, which uniquely mandates that all citizens “worship” and “observe” the Christian holiday.

“On Good Friday the period from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. shall uniformly be observed for the purpose of worship,” reads the statute under challenge, which was amended to provide that state government will close after 12 noon on Good Friday.

The Foundation’s legal complaint alleges that plaintiffs are injured by the impermissible advancement of religion caused by the establishment of Good Friday as a state holiday, by the expenditure of tax revenues for the paid Good Friday holiday, and by the denial of access to state facilities and services on Good Friday.

Named in the lawsuit are Wisconsin Governor Tommy G. Thompson and Jon E. Litscher, secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Employment Relations.

Several plaintiffs are joining the Foundation in its challenge, including a retired University of Wisconsin professor and three state employees. One state employee is a freethinker and two state workers are additionally injured by the establishment of Good Friday as a state holiday because they must take personal time to observe the Jewish holidays.

The case, Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc., Anne Gaylor, Annie Laurie Gaylor, Dan Barker, Samuel M. Essak, Jennifer Essak, Richard A. Uttke and Michael Hakeem v. Thompson and Litscher, was assigned to federal judge John Shabazz.

“It is not the business of the government to tell its citizens which deity they should worship, when they should worship, or, indeed, if they should worship at all,” said Anne Nicol Gaylor, Foundation president, in announcing the lawsuit.

“Our Wisconsin members and others in the public have complained to us about this law for years,” Gaylor said. “So we decided to do something about it. NonChristians should not be required to observe a holiday for religious beliefs they do not share, or to pay for it. Nor should the public be denied access to state facilities on a Christian-only holiday.”

Boding well for the lawsuit is a federal appeals court ruling in Chicago in June, which found unconstitutional an Illinois law requiring public schools to close for Good Friday.

Freedom From Religion Foundation