FFRF Objection Nixes Prayer at Remembrance

The Wisconsin Department of Justice removed religious content scheduled for its Sept. 25 commemoration of the first National Day of Remembrance for Murder Victims. The ceremony was set to take place on Sept. 25 at the Wisconsin State Capitol.

The change came after the Freedom From Religion Foundation contacted Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen about too much religion in the ceremony.

The Foundation objected in a letter on Sept. 18 to the scheduling of a highly religious Christian hymn, This Too Shall Pass,” by a soloist identified as a member of a church choir, and a closing prayer by a Lutheran pastor.

In a Sept. 20 letter, Assistant Attorney General Kevin Potter replied:

“After review of this matter, the Office of Crime Victim Services has revised the program to avoid any potential conflict with the U.S. and Wisconsin constitutions and applicable case law.”

The Central Wisconsin Chapter of Parents of Murdered Children, which cohosted 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 Gaylor in her letter to Van Hollen.

“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 the nearly limitless religious resources and opportunities for parents to seek private religious solace if they wished to.

Commented Foundation co-president Dan Barker following the revision:

“We are pleased with the prompt action, and satisfied that it appears the Attorney General’s Office has been responsive in recognizing that state functions should not promote religion or exclude any participants or staff on the basis of personal convictions.”

Freedom From Religion Foundation