FFRF gets Wisconsin religious entity to pay full school fees

1missionofhopeThe Freedom From Religion Foundation has made certain that a Wisconsin religious organization will pay full rental fees at local public schools.

Mission of Hope has held several events at public schools in Waupaca, Wis. Among other activities, the events include a prayer tent staffed by local church members to "pray with and for" visitors. Records that FFRF obtained revealed that the School District of Waupaca forgave Mission of Hope the $180 facility fees and $100 nonprofit kitchen use fees for past such events at the Waupaca Learning Center Elementary School.

"It is unconstitutional for a public school district to waive ordinary fees for an event that includes religious exercises, but not for all other nonprofit events," FFRF Legal Fellow Ryan Jayne wrote earlier this month to Waupaca School District Superintendent Greg Nyen. "It is well settled that public schools may not advance, prefer or promote religion. Waiving rental fees for an event that includes a prayer tent promotes religion on behalf of the district, no less than directly funding the event." 

Jayne added that the Wisconsin Constitution assumes that "reasonable compensation" will be charged in such instances and asked that this standard be applied to avoid discrimination against non-Christians and nonbelievers.

FFRF's complaint was taken seriously and received an appropriate response.

"I understand your concern regarding the need for separation of church and state," Nyen, who was recently appointed superintendent, quickly responded to FFRF in an email. "I am hereby providing you said assurance that in the future, charges for facility usage will be applied to Mission of Hope (MoH) as it would any other outside organization."

FFRF appreciates the assurance.

"Religious entities should not be entitled to preferential treatment," says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. "We're glad that the new superintendent has rectified the erroneous and unconstitutional past practice in his school district."

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a Wisconsin-based organization dedicated to the separation of state and church, with almost 24,000 members, including more than 1,300 in Wisconsin.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, based in Madison, Wis., a 501(c)(3) nonprofit educational charity, is the nation's largest association of freethinkers (atheists, agnostics), and has been working since 1978 to keep religion and government separate.

FFRF is a non-profit, educational organization. All dues and donations are deductible for income-tax purposes.

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FFRF is a member of the Secular Coalition for America

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