Foundation Calls for Compliance over Illegal Good Friday Closings in Wisconsin

(MADISON, WIS.) The Freedom From Religion Foundation has contacted several Wisconsin municipalities, schools and counties to remind them they must comply with the 1996 ruling in the FFRF vs. Thompson court decision and halt illegal closings on Good Friday.

The Foundation has received complaints from residents in Monona, Portage and elsewhere this week over closures of city halls, libraries and even public schools, in the case of Waunakee, which has already had its spring break. Some municipalities are closing all day. The Monona government, including its public library, is closing for several hours mid-afternoon.

In his Feb. 24, 1996 decision, U.S. District Judge John Shabaz noted: “The language of Wisconsin’s Good Friday holiday law and its undisputed effect of favoring Christianity over other religions leads overwhelmingly to the conclusion that promotion of Christianity is the primary purpose of the law.” His ruling overturned the state statute previously declaring “Good Friday” a state holiday, mandating closure of public facilities on the afternoon of Good Friday and instructing citizens to worship between particular hours.

The Foundation went back to court in September 1996 against Ozaukee County, when it balked over complying with the federal court order. That county capitulated in March 1997, adopting a floating holiday instead of observing Good Friday as an employee holiday. The State of Wisconsin likewise negotiated with state unions to adopt a floating half-holiday so that employees could choose their own half-day off.

“It is unlawful for Portage or Monona or Mt. Horeb to be treating Good Friday as an official holiday and closing offices and libraries,” noted Foundation president Anne Gaylor. “Residents have a right to do business at city hall and public facilities, including libraries, on Good Friday.”

In a letter sent this week to several public officials, Gaylor noted: “If this holiday is due to union negotiation, unions need to be informed of the change in this law, that this is non-negotiable. A government body may not approve of future union contracts which continue to observe a mandatory ‘Good Friday’ holiday. A change to a floating holiday will permit employees to choose their own days of ‘worship’ or leisure, without involving unconstitutional government endorsement of religion.”

The Foundation asked to be informed what steps such officials are taking to comply with the 7-year-old court order in the future.

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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