McManus Meddles In “Marriage Meddlers” Lawsuit (May 2000)

A federal court decision is expected this summer over the Freedom From Religion Foundation’s nationally-watched challenge of a Wisconsin state coordinator to “assist” clergy in adopting community marriage standards. Under an Open Records request, the Foundation’s attorney James Friedman uncovered a revealing memo to Wisconsin officials from Mike McManus, president of the national Christian-based Marriage Savers program. McManus’ memo, in dictating terms to the State, makes clear the direct link between the State of Wisconsin and the Christian program. On Dec. 20, the day the Foundation filed suit against the “marriage meddlers” law, McManus met with named defendants Secretary Joe Leean, Department of Health and Family Services, and Susan Dreyfus, Administrator, Division of Children and Family Services. Larry Ballard, a Wisconsin Marriage Savers contact, was also present. McManus sent a 10-page follow-up memo on Jan. 3 to Leean and Dreyfus giving legal strategy and other advice.

In the memo, McManus made this admission about the Foundation’s allegations: “One charge is valid. . . . Anne Gaylor is correct that The Community Marriage Policy¬ Project would ‘establish religious guidelines for use by religious officiators.’ In our meeting there was some talk that Marriage Savers¬ is just another organization that could be called upon to help establish Community Marriage Policy¬ Agreements.

Actually, that is incorrect. We must have some role in the project. The phrase Community Marriage Policy¬ is one that Marriage Savers¬ has created. We have a federally registered trademark on the use of that phrase.” McManus informed the state officials that to implement the budget act, the State would have to be granted a trademark license by Marriage Savers, which Marriage Savers would be willing to do if the Department hires Larry Ballard as its “Community Marriage Policy¬ director.” Alternatively, McManus wrote: “If the Department were to contract with Marriage Savers¬ or to make a grant to us to oversee the project, we would hire Larry Ballard as our director.”

McManus’ memo reveals that Ballard would then create “Community Marriage Policy Agreements” based on Marriage Savers’ church programs. McManus concluded his memo by complaining that the state’s allocation of $105,000 from the Temporary Aid to Needy Families federal fund “is not enough to open an office or hire a secretary.” Attorneys for the Foundation and the State are in the midst of submitting final briefs, responses and replies to Federal Judge John Shabaz. Wisconsin Attorney General James Doyle refused to defend the unconstitutional measure, so Gov. Tommy Thompson hired an outside firm at $165 an hour, choosing a graduate from Pat Robertson’s Christian law school to defend the budget item.

Freedom From Religion Foundation