FFRF fruitfully tutors Wisconsin city about U.S. Constitution

1kenoshaThe Freedom From Religion Foundation has taught a Wisconsin city the basics of the U.S. Constitution.

Earlier this year, the city of Kenosha’s Mayor’s Youth Commission voted 5-2 to give $500 to St. Mark the Evangelist Catholic Church for an Easter retreat for two of the church’s youth groups, God 1st and J-Walkers. FFRF alerted the city that the grant was unconstitutional and asked it to refrain from awarding such grants in the future.

“The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment prohibits the government from financially supporting religious activities,” FFRF Legal Fellow Ryan Jayne wrote to Kenosha City Administrator Frank Pacetti in May. “The city of Kenosha may not fund a church’s religious activities, including Easter youth retreats.” 

Pacetti replied to FFRF after almost a six-month delay, contending that since the funds were private donations raised from sales of memorial bricks at a local park, and not from tax proceeds, it wasn’t engaging in a constitutional violation. 

FFRF set the record straight in a quick follow-up communication, informing Kenosha that the source of the funding didn’t make a difference.

“The Establishment Clause prohibits the city from funding religion, regardless of how the city acquired the funds,” Jayne wrote. “No matter how the government categorizes a grant, the city must abide by the First Amendment when it awards funds.”

FFRF clarified that the Mayor’s Youth Commission, which voted to grant the money, is a city entity. Moreover, the city did not warn the memorial brick donors that their funds would go toward advancing religion.

FFRF’s persistence has paid off. In a recent letter, Pacetti confirmed that Kenosha’s mini-grant program had been terminated.

“The city of Kenosha has been and will continue to be vigilant in its efforts to protect the constitutional rights of all of its citizens,” Pacetti wrote back. “In furtherance of this goal and in the hopes of finally putting this disputed issue to rest, I wish to advise you that the mini-grant program is being discontinued.” 

FFRF is heartened that it was able to enlighten the city of Kenosha.

It was not necessary to throw out the baby (the youth grants) with the bathwater (unconstitutional funding policies), but we’re glad our reasoning got through to Kenosha officials, says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor.

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.


Freedom From Religion Foundation

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