Irish Fest organizers in Milwaukee announced today that they are dropping a promotion that violated civil rights laws by rewarding Mass attendance, in response to a complaint from the Freedom From Religion Foundation. Irish Fest will now offer everyone who drops off a food donation by 11 a.m. free admittance.
Freedom From Religion Foundation Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott is pleased with the resolution: "We have been going back and worth with Irish Fest officials for the past two years to stop their discriminatory Catholic mass discount. It wasn't until we had local members weigh-in that we seemed to make some progress."
FFRF asked its Wisconsin members on Tuesday to stand up for their rights as local citizens and taxpayers. Not only was the festival excluding nonreligious Wisconsinites, but citizens who practice a religion other than Catholicism.
"We received many strong testimonials from our secular members. Some identified as Irish folk who have been attending the event for years, but do not subscribe to the Catholic faith — or any faith for that matter — and felt ostracized by festival officials," said Elliott.
FFRF, a national nonprofit with more than 18,500 members and about 1,400 in Wisconsin, sent its first letter of complaint about the discount in 2010, when officials refused to address the complaint.
Elliott sent a follow up letter on Aug. 9 and received an Aug. 14 response from an attorney representing Irish Fest stating that they would not end or amend the discount.
Prior to FFRF's involvement, Irish Fest's website said, "Guests who donate nonperishable food items prior to the liturgy are admitted to the festival free of charge after the Mass." Elliott suggested a simple solution to the problem would be for all attendees to be able to donate items for free admittance at 11 a.m. or at any time of entry.
Irish Fest takes place Aug. 16-19 and the promotion is offered on Sun., Aug. 19.
See the before and after (in order) versions of Irish Fest's website: