Peggy Porter Koenig, friend of FFRF, writes: “While I was growing up, this statue, which we referred to as ‘Jesus on the Ball,’ was smack dab in the middle of a public park [in Marshfield, Wis.]. Then FFRF got him his own private park. Thank goodness for the Freedom From Religion Foundation.”
FFRF and the late Clarence Reinders of Marshfield sued in 1998 over the display with its “Christ Guide Us On Our Way” wording and prevailed nearly three years later when a federal appeals court ordered U.S. District Judge John Shabaz to oversee erection of a wall or fence with a prominent disclaimer in the park.
Shabaz initially dismissed FFRF’s suit after the city sold a parcel in the park to a group formed to save the statue. The appeals court ruled Feb. 4, 2000, that the sale didn’t remedy the constitutional violation.
The Catholic Knights of Columbus, a men’s group renowned for trying to turn America into a theocracy, had donated the statue to the city in 1959. Losing the suit cost the city about $60,000 in legal fees and fencing and sign costs.
Reinders, an FFRF Life Member who died in 2012, wrote at the time that leaving “the religious idol” in the park and fencing it off was the best outcome, though he was initially disappointed it was allowed to stay. “Whenever anyone looks at the idol in its newly imprisoned setting, they will see the fruits of our labors in defense of the First Amendment. With the fence and disclaimer signs, we have left our freethought mark of state/church separation for posterity.”
Goto ffrf.org/legal for more on FFRF’s litigation and to ffrf.org/legal/other-legal-successes for other legal victories.
FFRF recently received a $17,000 bequest for its legal work from the Reinders’ estate. Clarence lives!