FFRF tutors Wisconsin city about U.S. Constitution

1cityofkenoshaThe Freedom From Religion Foundation is gladly teaching 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 finally replied to FFRF a couple of weeks ago, 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 recent 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 and that the Kenosha Common Council itself approves such grants. Moreover, the city did not warn the memorial brick donors that their funds would go toward advancing religion. The donor form just made a general mention of “mini-grants intended to benefit the youth of Kenosha,” which any reasonable observer would understand as in compliance with the Constitution.

FFRF notes that worthy secular alternatives that are not religiously exclusionary could have been awarded these funds, and that the city should not waste its time and money defending the grant. It requests written assurances from the city of Kenosha that it will not award grants for religious activities in the future.

“Imagine the uproar—correctly—that would ensue were the city to fund atheist youth activities,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “This is just as inappropriate.”

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a Wisconsin-based organization dedicated to the separation of state and church, with more than 23,000 members, including 1,300-plus in Wisconsin.


Freedom From Religion Foundation

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