FFRF letter stops Christian church service with special privileges on county fairgrounds

The Freedom From Religion Foundation successfully stopped Missoula County (Mont.) from offering free admission to the Western Montana Fair for those attending a pre-fair onsite church service sponsored by the Missoula Christian Network, a coalition of about 50 local churches and ministries. 

The Missoula Christian Network had planned, as it had in 2009, to hold a church service on the fairgrounds before the fair gates opened and Missoula County unlawfully planned to offer free fair admission to those in attendance at the service, just as it had in 2009. The Foundation wrote the Missoula Board of County Commissioners first in April 2010 over the previous year’s violation of the federal Civil Rights Act (and Montana State law) by subsidizing and promoting free admission to the fair for Christians. The County did not respond until it received a follow-up letter from the Foundation in July, at which time FFRF Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert reminded the county to follow state and federal law at the August 2010 County Fair.

“As a place of ‘public accommodation,’ it is illegal for the County Fair to discriminate, or show favoritism, on the basis of religion,” wrote Markert. “The County Fair’s restrictive admission practice favors religious customers and denies customers who do not attend church, and nonbelievers the right to ‘full and equal’ enjoyment of the County Fair.”

The County responded in a letter [July 8, 2010]: “Missoula County acknowledges that religious organizations should not be given any special benefit over other members of the public. . . . Missoula County will proceed by treating religious groups in the same manner as other non-religious groups (i.e., same-space rental rates, and no preferential privileges).” Subsequently, the scheduled church service was moved to a private baseball park and deleted from this year’s fair schedule.

Freedom From Religion Foundation