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Humanists Decry Faith-Based Trickery by Wisconsin Village

May 9, 2008

For Immediate Release - Contact Fred Edwords at (202) 238-9088 fedwords@americanhumanist.org - www.americanhumanist.org

(Washington, D.C., May 9, 2008) The American Humanist Association cried foul today over what it calls "faith-based sleight of hand" by the village board of Holmen, Wisconsin. The village owns land upon which sits a Christian cross that is illuminated during Lent. When a local resident complained in March that this constitutes local government endorsement of religion in violation of the U.S. Constitution, the village opted in a closed-door meeting to sell a tiny, 30 foot by 33 foot, plot of land under the cross to the local Lion's Club, which would then maintain the cross on this parcel surrounded on all four sides by village property.  

In response, two organizations, the American Humanist Association and Freedom From Religion Foundation, each bid up to double the amount for the land than the $600 offered by the Lion's Club. Therefore, before the sale could be voted on officially by the village board, there were three bids up for consideration. The American Humanist Association and Freedom From Religion Foundation each pledged to take the cross down if they acquired ownership.  

But last night, May 8, the Holmen, Wisconsin, Village Board met in a public meeting and voted unanimously, without discussion, to award the controversial Star Hill site to the Holmen Village Lions Club, the lowest bidder.   

"The Village of Holmen simply ignored the fact that there were other bids and ignored the public controversy that has raged for weeks in the local media," said Fred Edwords, director of communications for the American Humanist Association. "The village board clearly wants the cross to remain where it is. Otherwise there's no reason to put on blinders and award the site to the lowest bidder. This is all about government support for religion."

American Humanist Association legal counsel Bob Ritter added: "To any onlooker, the cross will still appear to be on public land. So this was a sham sale that followed a closed-door sweetheart deal that was settled from the beginning. No fair hearing was given to other viewpoints. We aren't surprised by this faith-based sleight of hand, but we had hoped that Holmen officials might rise above religious favoritism and back-door politics."

Edwords said further: "This isn't the first time government has made a maneuver such as this to keep a religious symbol on public property. Humanists have been fighting the same tactic at Mount Soledad in San Diego, California, for nearly two decades. And there are other communities with crosses on public land. These crosses are maintained at taxpayer expense. So now there is a risk that, if this gambit proves successful in the end, communities all over America will duplicate this same faith-based trick. This is why we have taken action to stop it here."

In harmony with humanist opinion, and that of church-state separation groups, judicial rulings have consistently declared the cross to be a sectarian religious symbol and have found its placement on government-owned land a clear breach in the Jeffersonian wall separating church and state.

The American Humanist Association is now contemplating legal action.

 
# # #

The American Humanist Association (www.americanhumanist.org) advocates for the rights and viewpoints of humanists. Founded in 1941 and headquartered in Washington, D.C., its work is extended through more than 100 local chapters and affiliates across America.

Humanism is a progressive philosophy of life that, without theism, affirms our responsibility to lead ethical lives of value to self and humanity.

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