FFRF victories (May 2023)
The Wisconsin Department of Transportation removed two sectarian religious displays from a local rest stop after the Freedom From Religion Foundation demanded action.
The state/church watchdog was informed by a concerned Wisconsin resident that a Latin cross and a sign displaying the bible verse “Blessed are the peacemakers” were displayed on a bulletin board in the Coloma Rest Stop. The rest stop is located in the town of Coloma in Waushara County and is owned and run by the DOT, making it state property.
FFRF wrote to Wisconsin DOT Secretary Craig Thompson requesting that the signage be removed immediately.
“It is a basic constitutional principle that the government cannot show favoritism towards religion,” FFRF Anne Nicol Gaylor Fellow Sammi Lawrence stated in the letter. “The First Amendment’s Establishment Clause requires that the government remain neutral between religion and religion, and between religion and nonreligion.”
The displays signaled unconstitutional favoritism toward religion, and specifically Christianity over minority religions and nonreligious individuals. They were needlessly alienating to all non-Christians in a secular nation where nearly 30 percent of individuals identify as religiously unaffiliated.
FFRF received a letter from DOT Legal Counsel Eileen Miller Carter stating that department officials “have determined the current signs as described should be removed and we have accordingly directed our regional staff to remove the signs.”
FFRF extends appreciation to the Wisconsin DOT for correcting the issue and respecting the secular Constitution.
“Rest stops clearly should not be used to push a religious message. People deserve to travel freely without being proselytized by the state of Wisconsin,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “We are hopeful that the Department of Transportation will monitor its buildings going forward to ensure that the freedom of conscience of Wisconsin citizens and tourists is respected.”
Christian flag removed
FFRF took action in Arizona after being informed of a religiously coded flag displayed in the Arizona State House.
An Arizona resident reported that an “Appeal to Heaven” flag was on display on the second floor of the Arizona State House. FFRF knew that the sectarian flag was on display in a section that was under the jurisdiction of the Arizona House of Representatives, creating the image of endorsement of evangelical Christianity.
“While the flag has ties to the founding of the U.S., it is now viewed as a Christian flag,” FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line wrote in a letter to Speaker of the House Russell Bowers. “No purported secular purpose will detract from the overall message that the flag stands for Christianity and its display promotes Christianity.”
FFRF was pleased to learn that action had been taken by the House, as the “Appeal to Heaven” flag is no longer on display.