FFRF insists Milwaukee abide by Good Friday court ruling

The city of Milwaukee illegally closed administrative offices, municipal courts and public libraries and stopped garbage and recycling pickup on Good Friday, the Freedom From Religion Foundation said in an April 13 letter to Mayor Tom Barrett. The complaint was made on behalf of a Milwaukee resident, FFRF's Milwaukee members and nearly 1,200 members in Wisconsin.

In Freedom From Religion Foundation v. Thompson, FFRF successfully sued the state of Wisconsin in 1996 over recognition of Good Friday, a Christian observance, as a legal holiday. "As we pointed out in the legal briefs, Good Friday can in no way be construed as secular," said Rebecca Markert, staff attorney. In the case, Judge John C. Shabaz signed a court order overturning the state law, which actually mandated worship between the hours of 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. on Good Friday.

A Milwaukee Journal Sentinel news story on April 2 said: "It's a four-day weekend for most Milwaukee city offices. City offices will be closed first for the Good Friday holiday, then for an unpaid furlough day on Monday. The offices of mayor, municipal court and administrative agencies are among those closed both Friday and Monday."

Markert added in the Foundation's letter: "As a matter of policy, the city should remain open on Good Friday and provide regular services to Milwaukee citizens. The city is denying access to city services to all citizens, including the 15 percent of Milwaukee's population that is nonreligious (American Religious Identification Survey) as well as believers of non-Christian faiths."

If the holiday is due to union contracts, noted the Foundation, "then the unions should have been informed of the change in the law from 14 years ago. This is non-negotiable. As a government body, you may not continue to approve union contracts which observe a mandatory Good Friday holiday."

In March, the Foundation asked Wisconsin officials to remove references to Good Friday as an official state holiday. The request was made to the Revisor of Statutes Bureau, which publishes the official state statutes. Some municipalities continue to cite the obsolete statute to justify their decision to close on Good Friday.

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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