Delete religious resolution language, FFRF tells Wis. county board

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The Freedom From Religion Foundation is insisting that a county board in Wisconsin remove inappropriate and divisive phrasing from a recently passed resolution.

A concerned community member has informed the state/church watchdog that at the Oconto County Board of Supervisors’ May 18 meeting, it approved a “Resolution to Declare Oconto County’s Support of the People’s Second Amendment Right to Bear Arms, While Supporting Advancements in Education on Firearm Safety.” This resolution contains language implying that a lack of religion leads to a rise in violence: 

Violence is a result of a breakdown on many fronts. The lack of faith, the eroding of family values, the involvement in gangs, sex trafficking, the abuse and sale of illegal drugs, the lack of proper mental health treatment, the lack of education and guidance within our educational system as relates to safe firearms use, storage and handling. The discussions must continue in our community from all disciplines who are dedicated to addressing the complex issues related to our safety.

While it is certainly laudable that the board wishes to address the important and complex issues of community violence and firearm safety, it is needlessly divisive and inappropriate for the board to officially claim that violence is in any way a result of “lack of faith” among community members. The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment prohibits government favoritism toward religion, FFRF emphasizes.

“The Supreme Court has said time and again that the First Amendment requires ‘government neutrality between religion and religion, and between religion and nonreligion,’” FFRF Anne Nicol Gaylor Legal Fellow Sammi Lawrence writes to Oconto County Board of Supervisors Chair Alan Sleeter. “The board’s resolution that a ‘lack of faith’ is a contributing factor in the rise of violence in the community impermissibly sends the message that the board favors community members who are religious over those who are nonreligious.”

As elected officials, the board represents a diverse population that consists of not only religious community members, but also atheists, agnostics and those who are simply religiously unaffiliated, FFRF emphasizes. This resolution needlessly blames and alienates Oconto County citizens who are part of the nearly one in three Americans currently identifying as religiously unaffiliated. Furthermore, there is no reputable peer-reviewed evidence that supports the notion that a lack of faith among citizens correlates with a rise in violence, whether that violence is firearm-related or otherwise. A resolution stating that nonreligious community members are partially to blame for violence in their community is not only offensive but is also factually unsupported.

That’s why FFRF is asking the Oconto County Board of Supervisors to respect the First Amendment rights and diversity of its community and amend the resolution to remove “lack of faith” from the list of societal issues that cause violence. 

“The supervisors are displaying disdain for freethinking constituents,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “By removing their faith fixation, they will be acknowledging how times — and communities across the United States — are changing.”

You can read the full FFRF letter here.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with over 40,000 members across the country, including more than 1,700 members and its national headquarters in Wisconsin. Our purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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