Wisconsin county faces blowback over 2A resolution's "divisive" language

AP Photo/Steven Senne

Like thousands of towns, cities, and counties across the United States have already done, the board of supervisors in Oconto County, Wisconsin have passed a resolution declaring its support for the Second Amendment. But the resolution, which was adopted by a 29-1 vote back in May, is now drawing criticism; not from gun control groups who’ve largely ignored specific Second Amendment sanctuary ordinances or resolutions while condemning the overall movement, but from the Freedom From Religion Foundation, which objects to the supposedly “divisive” language found in the resolution’s text.


The national nonprofit organization based in Madison criticized wording where a “lack of faith” is cited as a factor that helps produce violence.

“The Supreme Court has said time and again that the First Amendment requires ‘government neutrality between religion and religion, and between religion and nonreligion,’” FFRF Anne Nicol Gaylor Legal Fellow Samantha Lawrence wrote to Oconto County Board of Supervisors Chair Alan Sleeter. “The board’s resolution that a ‘lack of faith’ is a contributing factor in the rise of violence in the community impermissibly sends the message that the board favors community members who are religious over those who are nonreligious.”

The organization requested that the Board rescind the resolution, or amend it to remove “lack of faith” from the list of societal issues that cause violence.

“While it is certainly laudable that the Board wishes to address the important and complex issues of community violence and firearm safety, it is needlessly divisive and inappropriate for the Board to officially claim that violence is in any way a result of ‘lack of faith’ among community members,” Lawrence wrote.

The offending part of the resolution reads, “”This Oconto County Board of Supervisors join the Sheriff and feel now is the time to discuss violence in its totality, not simply as an issue of gun violence. Violence is a result of a breakdown on many fronts. The lack of faith, the eroding of family values, the involvement in gangs, sex trafficking, the abuse and sale of illegal drugs, the lack of proper mental health treatment, the lack of education and guidance within our educational system as relates to safe firearms use, storage and handling. The discussions must continue in our community from all disciplines who are dedicated to addressing the complex issues related to our safety.”


Lawrence claims that the resolution “needlessly blames and alienates Oconto County citizens who are part of the nearly one in three Americans who now identify as religiously unaffiliated,” but it’s unclear what the group plans on doing if Oconto County refuses to rescind or amend the resolution, which is far more symbolic than substantive in nature. I suppose the FFRF could sue to have the resolution thrown out, but that seems like a waste of time and resources; both for the plaintiffs as well as the county, which would have to defend the current text of the resolution in court.

Given that the object of the resolution is to express support for the right to keep and bear arms, not shame unbelievers, the easiest thing to do would be to simply swap out the phrase that FFRF finds so troublesome with one that makes the same point without implicating a lack of faith. My suggestion? The BoS could reference “a devaluing of human life” or “a lack of respect for the sanctity of life” instead of a “lack of faith”, which is probably more on point than the original language anyway.

Will the supervisors acquiesce to FFRF’s request, or will they dig in their heels and turn the text of a pro-Second Amendment resolution into a First Amendment fight? We won’t have too long to see what happens, with the next board of supervisors meeting scheduled for July 20th.


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