FFRF denounces inclusion of religious messages in Baraboo community event

Baraboo-event-flyerThe Freedom From Religion Foundation is condemning the inclusion of religion at a Baraboo school-sponsored event that took place in response to the recent photograph of high school students giving the Nazi salute.

A concerned local resident contacted FFRF to report that the Baraboo School District and the city of Baraboo partnered with local faith leaders to sponsor an event at Baraboo High School called “Baraboo Gathers.” The event was meant to address the now infamous photo that received international condemnation, and is the first of three events aimed at helping the Baraboo community heal from the harm the photo has caused.

Local media reported that “Religion played a central role in the program, with an opening prayer and a litany offered at the end.” More specifically, the event opened with M.C. Eric Logan inviting a minister to deliver an opening prayer. The prayer was specifically Christian, made to “our holy Father” and “in our Lord’s name.” The event also closed with another prayer, with scripted audience participation, after Pastor Marianne Cotter discussed the importance of prayer to Christians specifically, and a third religious ritual led by another Christian minister.

FFRF sent letters to Superintendent Lori Mueller and Baraboo Mayor Mike Palm alerting the school district and the city to the unconstitutionality of a government-sponsored religious event.

“Aside from the religious content of the program, FFRF strongly supports the messages of this event’s speakers that condemned white supremacy and community divisiveness,” writes FFRF Staff Attorney Ryan Jayne in the letter. “Including religious rituals in this government-sponsored event is counterproductive to the goal of bringing the community together to heal because only a secular government is inclusive of all its citizens. The fact that all three of the event’s religious rituals were led by Christian ministers is particularly inappropriate given Christianity’s central role in anti-Semitic white nationalism.”

“Religion is not the remedy to hate and divisiveness,” added Jayne. “To the contrary, religion is inherently divisive.”

FFRF is asking that the school district and the city ensure that future events will remain secular in nature, including the next in this series of events, which is scheduled for this Thursday, Nov. 29.

“Injecting religion into a public school-sponsored event intended to unify the community has the opposite impact,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “Religion is exclusionary and only exacerbates the division from which the Baraboo community is attempting to heal.”

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a Wisconsin-based national nonprofit organization with more than 32,000 members across the country, including over 1,400 members in Wisconsin. FFRF’s purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between church and state, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.

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.

FFRF has received a 4 star rating from Charity Navigator

FFRF is a member of the Secular Coalition for America

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