The Freedom From Religion Foundation continues to challenge a discriminatory admission policy by Festa Italiana in Milwaukee, Wis., which offers free admission to Catholic Mass attendees for its ethnic festival on July 21.
FFRF, a state/church watchdog from Madison, Wis. with over 19,000 members, sent its first letter of complaint on Feb. 28 calling for this policy to cease. The Festa Italiana website promoted, "FREE admission to Festa when you attend High Mass at 11:00 a.m. in the Marcus Amphitheater." The normal gate price is $13 at the gate and $25 for a 3-day pass.
An attorney for Festa Italiana informed FFRF that the festival would end the discriminatory discount prior to the festival on July 21, 2013. However the July/August issue of the Italian Times says:
FFRF Staff Attorney Patrick Elliot sent a follow-up letter on July 18, illustrating that Festa Italiana has failed to end the policy: "[The FFRF] received information today that free admission to Mass attendees is still being instituted as it was in prior years. We understand that Festa Italiana is planning to give free admission to all persons at the Mass. The Festa Italiana website and publications make no reference to any type of discount offered to attendees arriving by 11:15. All other patrons of different faiths and of no religion will have no idea that they could be able to receive free admission."
Under Wisconsin law, it's illegal to "Give preferential treatment to some classes of persons in providing services or facilities in any public place of accommodation or amusement because of sex, race, color, creed, sexual orientation, national origin or ancestry."
FFRF has dealt with similar cases before including Irish Fest and Mexican Fiesta, both of which are hosted at the city of Milwaukee's Henry Maier Festival Park. Most ethnic festivals in Milwaukee have changed their policies so that they are open to persons not attending religious services. This includes: Irish Fest, Polish Fest, German Fest and Mexican Fiesta.
FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor stated, "Persons attending Festa Italiana on Sunday who are not granted free admission are encouraged to take action to address this discriminatory practice. FFRF expects that it may pursue remedies with the Department of Workforce Development Equal Rights Division."