Milwaukee Irish Fest organizers announced Aug. 16, in response to a complaint by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, that they would drop a religious promotion that violated civil rights laws.
This year the annual event was Aug. 16-19 at the city-owned Henry Maier Festival Park. A Catholic Mass is held near the entrance to Irish Fest one Sunday a year at 9:30 a.m. The fest’s website said, “Guests who donate nonperishable food items prior to the liturgy are admitted to the festival free of charge after the Mass.” All others were charged $15.
The catch was that the Fest did not open until 11 a.m.
FFRF Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott wrote to Irish Fest, “This means that only those who would conceivably attend or want to attend the Catholic Mass can receive this major benefit. Therefore, you are discriminating on the basis of religion.”
FFRF sent its first letter of complaint about the discount in 2010.
Elliott followed up with a letter Aug. 9 to Kathy Pratscher, interim executive director, on behalf of a local complainant, who has been bothered for years by the discrimination.
Under Wisconsin law, it’s illegal to “Deny to another or charge another a higher price than the regular rate for the full and equal enjoyment of any public place of accommodation or amusement because of sex, race, color, creed, disability, sexual orientation, national origin or ancestry.”
Elliott discovered the Catholic practice is widespread in Wisconsin. Oshkosh Irish Fest offered free admission to Mass attendees in 2009 and 2010. Polish Fest in Milwaukee offers reduced admission to Mass attendees. German Fest in Milwaukee hosts a Mass in the Marcus Amphitheater and promotes it by saying, “All church attendees receive free admission to the Fest.” Festa Italiana offers this promotion: “FREE admission to Festa when you attend High Mass at 11 a.m. in the Marcus Amphitheater. ” Elliott is pursuing complaints against those illegal practices.
FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor noted that dropping the practice will also help ensure the Hunger Task Force, recipient of the food drive, will receive more contributions: “The Mass reward was a disincentive to charity, since three-fourths of Wisconsin citizens aren’t Catholic.”
Given their history, you’d think the Irish would be more sensitive about discrimination in the U.S., including religious discrimination.
Showing it knows a thing or two about tolerance and charity, Atheist Ireland donated $100 to the Hunger Task Force to reward Irish Fest’s change of heart.
Michael Nugent, chairperson of Atheist Ireland, wrote a letter to Irish Fest officials noting that 43% of Irish identify as nonreligious and another 10% as “convinced atheists.”
Nugent added, “Thank you for ending the discrimination in admission charges against non-Catholics attending your Irish Fest this Sunday, and for reflecting the reality that Irish identity today transcends our various religious or nonreligious beliefs.
“As a small token of our gratitude, we are sending $100 to the Freedom from Religion Foundation to buy some food items to donate to your collection. Perhaps you might allow free admission to some people who otherwise could not afford the entrance fee.”
FFRF Co-President Dan Barker noted, “Milwaukee remains one of the poorest cities in the U.S., so this compassionate contribution by Irish secular citizens was really heartwarming and welcome.”
FFRF sent the donation directly to the Hunger Task Force.