FFRF demands Wis. police department not promote upcoming mass

The Freedom From Religion Foundation has complained to the Dane County Sheriff’s Office over its inappropriate promotion of a Catholic mass on Tuesday.

A concerned Dane County community member informed the state/church watchdog that the Dane County Sheriff’s Office has been advertising a Blue Mass occurring at a local parish in Madison on May 16. The flier encourages law enforcement officers and fire department personnel to attend the Blue Mass in full uniform, followed by “a reception with brats & hamburgers.” A Blue Mass is an actual Catholic mass put on by the Catholic Church for employees in the field of public safety.

FFRF says the Catholic Church may publicize its own masses, but the Sheriff’s Office must refrain from promoting religious events.

“The Dane County Sheriff’s Office’s apparent promotion of and favoritism towards religion poses serious constitutional concerns,” FFRF Anne Nicol Gaylor Legal Fellow Sammi Lawrence writes to Sheriff Kalvin D. Barrett. “As the Supreme Court has put it, the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment ‘mandates government neutrality between religion and religion, and between religion and nonreligion.’ By promoting a ‘Blue Mass’ held in a Catholic church and encouraging law enforcement officers to attend in full uniform, the Sheriff’s Office signals a clear preference for religion over nonreligion and Christianity over other faiths.”

Citizens interact with and rely on law enforcement officers during some of the most urgent and vulnerable times of their lives, FFRF points out. Minority religious and nonreligious citizens should not be made to feel like outsiders in their own community because the Sheriff’s Office and its law enforcement officers promote a particular religious group’s events and participate in religious events while in full uniform, implying official support for the church. Religious events like the Blue Mass explicitly exclude and needlessly alienate the 40 percent of Dane County residents who are religiously unaffiliated.

FFRF is therefore asking the Dane County Sheriff’s Office to stop promoting religious events and law enforcement officers to not attend religious events while in uniform.

FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor notes that only 19 percent of Dane County adult residents overall are Catholic, meaning 81 percent are non-Catholic. The number of residents who identify as religiously unaffiliated, such as atheists, agnostics or nothing in particular, in Dane County is much higher than the national average of 29 percent.

“Police officers take an oath to protect and serve all citizens, including those who practice a minority religion or no religion at all,” says Gaylor. “Numerous Dane County residents should not feel like their beliefs exclude them from the protection of law enforcement. Nor should nonreligious or non-Catholic law enforcers be expected to attend Catholic events.”

The Madison-headquartered Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with over 40,000 members across the country, including more than 1,700 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.

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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