La Crosse, WI

For several years, La Crosse County has contracted with the Salvation Army to provide shelter services to the homeless and the mentally ill. AU received complaints that, at its shelter facility, the Salvation Army regularly held religious services and presented prayers and sermons at meals. We sent a letter to the county explaining that the Constitution prohibits public funds from being used to support any program that includes religious activity, much less one that requires participants to partake of that activity. We asked the county to investigate the program’s religious activity and to ensure that its funding of the program did not violate those prohibitions. The county informed us that it had met with the Salvation Army and had made it clear that the shelter services provided by the county were not to be used to support religious activity. The county also will monitor its contract with the Salvation Army by visiting the shelter facility twice per year (once unannounced) and by conducting confidential interviews at least four times per year with persons who are being provided shelter services to determine whether they are being pressured or coerced to attend or participate in religious activities.