The Wisconsin Department of Transportation removed two sectarian religious displays from a local rest stop after the Freedom From Religion Foundation demanded action.
The state/church watchdog was informed by a concerned Wisconsin resident that a Latin cross and a sign displaying the bible verse “Blessed are the peacemakers” were displayed on a bulletin board in the Coloma Rest Stop #81. The rest stop is located in the town of Coloma in Waushara County and is owned and run by the DOT, making it state property.
FFRF wrote to Wisconsin DOT Secretary Craig Thompson requesting that the signage be removed immediately.
“It is a basic constitutional principle that the government cannot show favoritism towards religion,” FFRF Anne Nicol Gaylor Fellow Sammi Lawrence stated in the letter. “The First Amendment’s Establishment Clause requires that the government remain neutral between religion and religion, and between between and nonreligion.”
The displays signaled unconstitutional favoritism toward religion, and specifically Christianity over minority religions and nonreligious individuals. They were needlessly alienating to all non-Christians in a secular nation where nearly 30 percent of individuals identify as religiously unaffiliated.
FFRF received a letter from DOT Legal Counsel Eileen Miller Carter stating that department officials “have determined the current signs as described should be removed and we have accordingly directed our regional staff to remove the signs.”
FFRF extends appreciation to the Wisconsin DOT for correcting the issue and respecting the secular Constitution.
“Rest stops clearly should not be used to push a religious message. People deserve to travel freely without being proselytized by the state of Wisconsin,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Lauire Gaylor. “We are hopeful that the Department of Transportation will monitor its buildings going forward to ensure that the freedom of conscience of Wisconsin citizens and tourists is respected.”
The Madison-headquartered Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with almost 40,000 members across the country, including over 1,600 members in Wisconsin. Its purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.