Attendees of Milwaukee’s Festa Italiana Get Free Admission… if They Attend Mass

Last summer, there was a kerfuffle in Milwaukee over their Mexican and Irish festivals.

Mexican Fiesta, an event sponsored by the city, cost $13/person for entrance… unless you attended Mass, in which case it was only $5:

The Freedom From Religion Foundation called them out on it and organizers eventually issued a compromise: they said 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 sit around and wait for 90 minutes.

I never said it was a good compromise.

The city’s Irish Fest did the same thing, offering a discount for Mass attendees — but, after pressure from FFRF, revised their policy to say that anyone who donated a non-perishable food item would receive the discount.

So everything’s all better this year, right?

Of course not.

This weekend marks Festa Italiana, celebrating Milwaukee’s Italian heritage!

Admission is $13 at the gate and $25 if you want a three-day pass… but if you attend Catholic Mass, it’s completely free. At least that’s what the July/August issue of The Italian Times said:

FFRF attorney Patrick Elliott sent festival organizers two separate letters (PDF) pointing out the legal problem with this discount.

[FFRF] received information today that free admission to Mass attendees is still being instituted as it was in prior years. We understand that Festa Italiana is planning to give free admission to all persons at the Mass. The Festa Italiana website and publications make no reference to any type of discount offered to attendees arriving by 11:15. All other patrons of different faiths and of no religion will have no idea that they could be able to receive free admission.

Under Wisconsin law, it’s 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 sex, race, color, creed, sexual orientation, national origin or ancestry.”

If you go to the festival’s website, there’s no information indicating any discount for attending the Mass. So maybe they changed their ways to comply with the law. Or maybe they just published the information in a publication read by the Italian community hoping no one else would notice.

FFRF is prepared to take action if organizers don’t respond and continue with the free admission to Mass participants:

FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor stated, “Persons attending Festa Italiana on Sunday who are not granted free admission are encouraged to take action to address this discriminatory practice. FFRF expects that it may pursue remedies with the Department of Workforce Development Equal Rights Division.”

I’ve contacted event organizers about the discount and will update this post if I hear from them.

***Update***: Event organizers told me Mass attendees *will* still be receiving free admission to the festival. It’s unclear if non-attendees will receive the same discount. Atheists in the area should try to get in without going to Mass and document whether or not they are forced to pay.

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.

  • GodVlogger (on YouTube)

    The church or priest that is hosting the mass should pay the city for the festival admission price of those who attend the religious service!

    But since we all know that’s never gonna happen, they should just put a total STOP to this idea of giving discounts for participating in superstitious nonsense.

  • GodVlogger (on YouTube)

    Part of the absurdity is that there is no logical or secular purpose for why the city taxpayers should underwrite the admission costs of people arriving early for the festival, whether it is for mass or any other reason.

    It’s not like a nightclub that lets you in free early in the evening because they will get a few more hours of you buying food or drinks.

    With this festival, the city taxpayers effectively end up paying other people to participate in a a religious ceremony.

    It is crazy (and almost certainly illegal).

  • GodVlogger (on YouTube)

    Funny how I’ve never seen Time magazine’s Joe Klein donate a non-perishable food item at any of these festivals.
    What a cheap jerk!

  • Spitfire McGee

    Okay now it’s getting old ):(

  • Randay

    Can you enter the mass room and then leave immediately or after a few minutes, or do you have wait for the end of an hour and a quarter of Christian comedy to get a ticket? Look for a direct exit to the event.

  • UWIR

    I’ve always thought the reason for waiving the cover charge was because there are fewer customer in the evening.

  • UWIR

    ($13-$5)/1.5 hour = $5.33/hour. They don’t value the time of the attendees at very much, do they?

  • Richard Wade

    There seems to be a trait that is becoming consistently, reliably, 100% predictably associated with the Catholic Church:

    Unable to learn from their own mistakes.

  • DougI

    Let’s celebrate some real Italian heritage and anyone who attends a Dionysus drunken fuck fest will be given a discount.

  • Houndentenor

    If you ask me, $8 to avoid going to mass is a bargain.

  • GBJames

    I was at Festa Italiana yesterday with my wife. I went early to see how they handled this situation.

    Non-Catholics could get in free if they came before the festival started and entered with mass-attendees, and hung around a while. There was a special temporary entry gate pretty far from the regular entry gates: not where regular festival-goers would be entering. We didn’t have to wait for mass to complete before entering the festival grounds. But people who showed up after the start of the mass were turned away.

    My wife and I tried to buy ice cream from a vendor. An elderly lady there told me that they weren’t open yet and I should be off praying at mass. Ironic, really. She was the believer, not me!

  • GBJames

    It isn’t quite like this. These are technically separate events. The Catholics hold their mass on city property but they (I’m pretty sure) pay rent for the facility. The festival coordinates with the Church to offer free entry to mass-goers, opening a separate gate for them to get in after the mass. (Complete with big Italian religious parade with floats full of saints, bands playing Verdi (Yeah!), and lots of marching Catholics.)

    So, the festival, not the taxpayers, is offering the discount to Catholics. But the festival is still bound by law to not discriminate on the basis of religion and they are doing so.

  • GBJames

    Actually, there are more attendees in the evenings. Festa is noted for excellent fireworks.

    The financial justification is that all these Catholics come in for free but gets the grounds full of people who will buy lunch right away. Otherwise they would show up much later having gone to church elsewhere.