Mexican Fiesta Festival Gives Discount to Catholics

Mexican Fiesta has been celebrated in Milwaukee for over 30 years and it took place this past weekend on public grounds.

The cost to enter is $13/person… unless you attend Mass… in which case it’s only $5:

As you can imagine, the Freedom From Religion Foundation didn’t like the idea that Catholic attendees would get to pay less than non-Catholic ones. So they sent festival organizers a letter explaining the problem.

Just to be clear, this has nothing to do with Mexican heritage or the culture or anything like that. This is all about an event on public property giving discounts to people who are religious.

So how did the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel cover the story? The paper’s headline makes it sound like FFRF has a racist agenda:

How’s that for missing the point?

At least the article mentions how the law is on FFRF’s side:

Wisconsin statute 106.52(3)(a) makes it 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.” The federal Civil Rights Act has similar language.

Anyway, while the festival organizers say anyone is eligible for the discount, the Catholic bishop leading the Mass doesn’t seem to get what the problem is:

“We lovingly invite the atheists to attend the Mass and experience the profound love of God,” said Milwaukee Archdiocese Auxiliary Bishop Donald J. Hying. “If we all lived in the radiant love of Christ, these fights would cease.”

[FFRF attorney Patrick] Elliott responded: “I don’t think the bishop gets it at all. We’ve never said they shouldn’t have a Mass.”

The resolution that the organizers offered was that anyone who came for the 10:30a Mass on Sunday would get a discounted ticket… but atheists wouldn’t have to participate in the Mass. They’d just have to wait around and twiddle their thumbs for 90 minutes. Only then would the gates be opened.

Hardly a good policy.

Meanwhile, the local Irish Fest also offered a discount for Mass attendees, but after FFRF called them out on it, they revised (or made clearer, as they put it) the policy so that it says anyone who gives a food donation is eligible for the cheaper rate:

Even though the Mexican Fiesta is over for this year, they should take the hint from the Irish Fest. Offer the cheaper rate for people who make a charitable donation, not for people who go to Mass and only pretend to do something good. It’s an easy problem to fix.

***Edit***: A few minor changes have been made to this piece since its original posting.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • Annaiagaw

    the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel needs to realize that not all Hispanics are catholic and many are atheists. My family background is a mix of Catholic/German/Hispanic all of which would make a fun festival, but I’ll be damned if I have to attend mass to get a discount to a city-sponsored event.

  • GeraardSpergen

    Does this relate in any way to the “sell your soul for a cookie” events that SSA promotes?  Religious people can just cross their fingers when they take the blasphemy challenge and get free baked goods.

  • John B

    Did you notice that the Wisc. law cited says you can’t charge a higher than regular price.  In this case they aren’t.  $13 is the regular price, $5 is a discounted price.  There is no mention of endorsing or believing in the Mass content.  I attend plenty of functions and events where I do not believe in or endorse the message.

    So it would seem you just don’t like the way in which one qualifies for the discount, in which case I suggest toughening up.  Roman Catholicism is a large part of Mexican culture so this isn’t out of place.  Being a protestant with many issues with Catholicism, I don’t have a problem with them offering discounts for Mass attendance.  I wouldn’t go to a Catholic Mass just to get a discount, and I’m not the least bit offended that I’d have to pay full price where Mass attendees would be discounted.

    I have to ask why you find this so offensive if not for the sake of religious intolerance.

  • Patrick Elliott

    The article did not cite the full statute. Under Wisconsin law, it is illegal to  “give preferential treatment to some classes of persons in providing services or facilities in any public place of accommodation or amusement because of…creed.” The Court of Appeals of Wisconsin said in a 1994 challenge to sex-based pricing, “Simply put, promotions may not involve price differentials or other differential treatment based on the categories covered by the statute, whatever the intent.”

  • Steve

    So just say you are Catholic. Is there some kind of membership card that they could ask for to prove you aren’t Catholic?

  • Guest

    Uh Oh.  The Eradicate Religion From the Public Forum Foundation is upset again.  If only we could embrace the Soviet principle of Freedom of Worship, all this would go away.   Which more or less seems to be the case.  Ross Douthat said it best: why don’t modern secularists just admit the bleeding obvious?

  • machintelligence

    Framing much? 
    It can be argued that the $5 is the regular price and $13 is only for non catholic service attending persons. And how does one “prove” attendance? Perhaps the church should pass out church programs to any who ask for them. Or perhaps “any reasonable facsimile accepted”.

  • Thomasy

    It’s not a “city-sponsored”event. Just because something happens on “public grounds” doesn’t makei t city-sponsored. 

    Further, the event is almost certainly not covered by the statute.  An organization which sponsors an event that includes a Catholic Mass is not in the business of providing a public place of accomodation.   To read the statute to cover this scenario is almost certainly unconstitutional under the First Amendment.

  • Bill Santagata

    I’d imagine you’ have to show the church bulletin from that day that they hand out after mass. Besides, you shouldn’t have to lie about your religion to receive any sort of benefit from the government.

  • John B


    There isn’t preferential treatment being given to a group of people.  It isn’t offering a discount to people who are catholic.  It is being offered to anyone who attends a particulat event — in this case a Mass.  You dont have to convert, you dont have to believe, just show up.  So it’s not a class of people or even a particular group.  It’d be the same “group” type if you offered a discount to anyone who went to a specific park.  It’s your being present in the building that gets you the discount, not the kind of person you are.

  • Bill Santagata

    If you want to learn more about Mexican culture by going to a Mexican Catholic church, that’s perfectly fine. But it is entirely inappropriate for the government (or even private businesses under the Civil Rights Act) to give preferential treatment to people who attend a certain religious service, whether they actually believe in it or not.

  • BionicHips

     I hate to say it this bluntly John B., but you are an idiot

  • Findog53

    Hey fellow Rhode Islander, i agree to a certain extent. Now should people start bitching about seniors getting $5 off and chil;dren under 12 getting discounts? Shouldn’t everyone get discounts? Should people start bitching about say me getting into the event with a $10 discount because it’s grim reaper tatoo day?

  • C Peterson

    Good. Let them. Any religious person who believes that they can blaspheme with their fingers crossed and it doesn’t count clearly doesn’t have a clue about their own beliefs, and in fact is already well into the atheist camp.

  • Findog53

    Food for thought Bill, In R.I. some churches rent the area for fairs and festivals as you know. Even though that could be the case do you still think it’s not ok to charge that type of a discount for church go-ers?

  • Findog53

    Well said sir.

  • Martin

    But a dishonest headline like “Atheist group at odds with ethnic festivals” sells less papers than “Atheist group at odds with illegal practices at city festivals” because that would show us to be the good guys, and no one likes that!

  • Martin

    Even if trying to fit it the way you are with the wording, they are still breaking the law, because they are denying the higher price to Catholics who attend the mass.  

  • Silo Mowbray

    How many false dilemmas do you have up your ass anyway?

  • Martin

    Yes you are correct, it is a state sponsored event since Travel Wisconsin is a sponsor and they are the official site of the Wisconsin Department of Tourism.
    Please update your headline Hemant :P

  • Martin

    No one is trying to Eradicate Religion, we are trying to Eradicate discrimination.  HUGE DIFFERENCE.  No one has once complained that a Catholic group has some sponsorship just that Catholics are receiving special treatment, which is discrimination.

  • Martin

    It is giving preferential treatment to a group of people based on creed, it is people’s creed not to attend a Catholic mass, and the only way to get the treatment is to attend the Catholic mass, therefore it has nothing to do with conversion but just belief system ie. creed.  

  • RobMcCune

    Ross Douthat never said anything best, hell, your much better than him at cramming so much wrong into so small a statement. 

  • RobMcCune

    That’s the point of the discount for attending mass, to get people to participate in a religious ritual they wouldn’t otherwise.

  • Bill Santagata

    First, the “feasts” as they’re called are privately run. (Yes, I’m sure that extra police protection is used, etc. but the government would do this for any large event regardless of whether it was hosted by a religious institution or what religion was hosting it. This facilitation by the government is purely in the interests of public safety, not advancing any religion). I don’t know precisely what the law is, but “public accommodations” cannot discriminate on the basis of religion. I don’t know if there is a certain dollar amount that makes this a public accommodation (in comparison to, for example, a small bake sale on the church lawn.)

    I have been to many of these fairs and have never seen price discrimination on the basis of religion.

    When it comes to a government-sponsored event such as this one it is particularly egregious to institute price discrimination contingent on participating in a certain worship service.

  • Bill Santagata

    It is not illegal to give discounts based on age. It probably is illegal to give discounts contingent on attending a certain church services, especially if it is a government event. The government has no legitimate purpose in encouraging people to go to church.

  • MG

    I have been paying the standard price for year at Milwaukee’s Polish Fest, rather than accept a discount for going to the mass. And it doesn’t really bother me. There are all kinds of offers I wouldn’t take them up on. They could offer me a discount if I ate a bowl of  czernina (duck blood soup)–I would refuse, but I wouldn’t feel discriminated against.

  • skinnercitycyclist

     Is there a subcategory of Godwin where the cranially unendowed always make ludicrous references to Stalin, or is that just McCarthyism?

  • Ibis3

     Also, despite what the bishop said, Catholicism is still, as far as I know, a mystery religion. Apostates and the unbaptised are not supposed to be present during Mass.

  • Findog53

    Another worshipper of the chocolate starfish.