FFRF Objects to Sheriff Department-Sponsored Prayer Breakfast

The Freedom From Religion Foundation asked a Wisconsin county sheriff’s department to cease and desist official sponsorship of a prayer breakfast in April. This year’s featured speaker for the Burnett Sheriff Department’s eighth annual sponsorship of a prayer breakfast is controversial Supreme Court Justice (elect) Michael Gableman.

An invitation on Burnett County Sheriff’s Department letterhead was sent out for the May 1 prayer breakfast in Siren, Wis., signed by Sheriff Dean W. Roland. Roland’s official letter of sponsorship and invitation referred to the justice-elect as a man who is deeply committed to our Lord, his religion and his profession.”

Roland’s invitation added: “I invite you to hear this year’s prayer breakfast to hear the words of encouragement from Judge Gableman and to wish him well in his new position.”

Freedom From Religion Foundation co-president Annie Laurie Gaylor wrote Roland “on behalf of Burnett County taxpayers who very much object, as we do, to the misuse of your office, stationery, and authority as Burnett County Sheriff in hosting the eighth annual prayer breakfast.”

She added that the fact this event has apparently been sponsored by a government department for eight years “only increases our dismay.”

Gaylor asked the sheriff to “immediately remedy this First Amendment violation” by ceasing the sponsorship. She said she had no problem with officials attending prayer breakfasts, so long as they are privately organized and paid for.

She asked for an itemization of county funds expended to host the religious event, and for private reimbursement of any public expenditures for the event. She made an open records request seeking copies of contracts, agreements, e-mails, correspondence, and invoices for the event, which, as of press time, had not been responded to.

Gaylor said Congress should never have inaugurated a “National Day of Prayer” (now held yearly on the first Thursday in May), which has encouraged “public officials with theocratic tendencies to misuse their public office to promote or endorse religion, and in particular to advance Christianity over other religious beliefs or no beliefs.”

She said Gableman should cancel his appearance at the event, which signals a contempt for the constitutional principle of secular government.

Gableman’s campaign consultant Darrin Schmitz told Associated Press reporter Ryan Foley, of Madison, Wis.:

“The anti-faith crowd will not be able to bully Justice-elect Gableman. The foundation’s paranoia is sad and baseless.”

Roland told Associated Press the complaint was “absurd” and that the annual breakfast started by his predecessor, and usually attended by about 20 people, would go ahead.

“I’m not only going to go forward with the event, I will wear my full uniform that says Burnett County Sheriff on it,” Roland told Associated Press. “I find this absolutely atrocious, but I guess they have a right to their opinion and I have a right to mine. This is my freedom of religion. This is my right.”

As Associated Press reported, the recent campaign by Gableman, who in April unseated progressive Louis Butler, the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s only African-American justice, was “described as one of the nastiest in state history.”

The Wisconsin Democracy Campaign has estimated that special interest groups spent a record $4.8 million to remove Butler, the first time in 41 years a seated justice has lost a Supreme Court election.

To complain about the state/church violation, contact:

Dean W. Roland, Sheriff
Burnett County Sheriff’s Dept.
7410 County Rd K, #122
Siren WI 54872

Freedom From Religion Foundation