Letter to the Burnett County Sheriff

Dean W. Roland, Sheriff
Burnett County Sheriff’s Department
7410 County Rd K, #122
Siren WI 54872

Re: State/Church Violation; Open Records Request

Dear Sheriff:

Our organization, which works to protect the constitutional principle of the separation between church and state, is writing on behalf of Burnett County taxpayers who very much object, as we do, to the misuse of your office, stationery, and authority as Burnett County Sheriff, in hosting the eighth annual prayer breakfast. That your inappropriate government sponsorship of a religious event apparently has been going on for eight years only increases our dismay.

It is fine if you wish to attend this breakfast as an individual, but a sheriff’s department representing and subsidized by taxpayers may not permissibly host a prayer breakfast. There are plenty of tax-exempt religious entities to sponsor such events.

Your letter of April 15, 2008, on Burnett County Sheriff’s Department letterhead, violates the letter and the spirit of law dictating that religion and government be kept separate. Its content is deeply troubling, such as this gratuitous reference showing government preference for Christianity over other religions or no religion: “Judge Gableman is a man who is deeply committed to our Lord, his religion and his profession.”

Sheriff’s Department sponsorship of a prayer breakfast violates Wisconsin State Constitution, Art. I, Sect. 18, which guarantees that no one shall “be compelled to attend, erect or support any place of worship, or to maintain any ministry, against his consent, nor shall any control of, or interference with, the rights of conscience be permitted, or any preference be given by law to any religious establishments or modes of worship.”

We write to ask that you act immediately to remedy this First Amendment violation:

1) Remove the Burnett County Sheriff’s Department name from any sponsorship or appearance of sponsorship of the May 1 function;

2) Do not engage in any official department sponsorship of religious functions and activities in the future;

3) Provide an itemization of county funds expended (or committed) to host the 8th annual prayer breakfast;

4) Privately reimburse Burnett County or its Sheriff’s Department for any public funds spent on your religious mission (including but not limited to costs for postage, stationery, copying, tickets for yourself or guests, advertising, and any other publicly-funded expenditures on behalf of the prayer breakfast, including rent).

Under Wisconsin open records law, we formally request copies of any contracts, agreements or correspondence the Burnett County Sheriff’s Department has entered into with Adventures Restaurant or with speaker Michael Gableman, including a copy of the letter or e-mail of invitation to him or other guests or speakers, or any other correspondence concerning this event, including copies of any e-mails, posters, or other invitations which your office has distributed, designed or paid for, and copies of invoices or paid or outstanding bills pertaining to the function, including but not limited to rental, honorarium, advertising, and printing.

May we hear from you at your earliest convenience?


Annie Laurie Gaylor

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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