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.


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