Religious worship service removed from carnival schedule in Brandon

BRANDON — Planners behind the carnival coming to Brandon this week found themselves up against the First Amendment after a complaint was  led over a scheduled Christian worship service at the event.
Katie Burghardt Kramer of Cornwall sent a letter on May 30 to Brandon Town Attorney Jim Carroll, Recreation Director Bill Moore and Town Manager Dave Atherton, saying she was disturbed by the inclusion of a Christian worship services and Christian rock bands on the schedule for Sunday, June 11, the last day of the four-day carnival at Park Village.
The carnival is co-sponsored by the town of Brandon and the Brandon Toy Project, along with a number of local business sponsors including Xfinity Comcast, RRMC Women’s Health, Same Sun of Rutland, Naylor and Breen, Celebration Rentals, Mae’s Place, and the National Bank of Middlebury.
“This strikes me as a clear entanglement of church and state, as prohibited by the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment,” Burghardt Kramer wrote. “The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment ‘prohibits government action that tends to endorse, favor, or in some manner promote religion…’ The ‘establishment of religion’ clause of the First Amendment means at least this:
“‘No tax in any amount, large or small, can be levied to support any religious activities or institutions, whatever they may be called, or whatever form they may adopt to teach or practice religion.’ I am concerned that the Brandon Carnival, as currently planned, violates this bedrock principle.”
Burghardt Kramer, who is an attorney, also cited three cases that set legal precedent to make her point, Turner v. Roman Catholic Diocese of Burlington (2009); Lemon v. Kurtzman (1971), which requires that (1) governmental action must have a secular purpose, (2) its primary effect must not enhance or inhibit religion, and (3) the action must not foster an excessive government entanglement with religion; and Everson v. Board of Education (1947).
“I would therefore request that the town cancel the Christian portions of the Brandon Carnival and proceed with the event as a secular, family-friendly event,” Burghardt Kramer wrote. “As a Jewish resident of Addison County and a parent of two small children, I’m very glad to see family-friendly events in our area, but not ones that improperly entangle church and state.”
The letter was received by the town at about 11 a.m. on Tuesday, May 30, via email. By the end of the day, Moore had issued a press release announcing that the Christian worship service had been cancelled. He added that while some Christian rock bands will perform on Sunday, there is at least one non-Christian band performing as well.
“The worship service that had been planned for Sunday, June 11, has been cancelled due to concerns regarding the municipal endorsement of a religious service,” Moore wrote. “This was never the intention of the town of Brandon … This was always intended to be an all-inclusive, family-friendly event.”
In an interview Monday, Moore reiterated that his goal from the day he booked the carnival was to offer a fun way to kick off summer that would appeal to people from all over the area.
“The whole intent was to bring a wonderful event to the area and bring in people from the surrounding communities, so we wanted it to be as inclusive as possible,” he said. “There was definitely not an intent to discriminate or alienate anyone. Katie’s letter gave us an opportunity to look at it again and see how it might be a problem.”
Moore said in scheduled events over the four-day carnival, he and Brandon Area Toy Project Director Colleen Wright had organized a 1K Fun Run and Bingo Under the Stars for Thursday night, a DJ and dance party on Friday night, and a slate of musical acts and a Battle of the Bands on Saturday night.
When they came to Sunday, Moore said they just figured Sunday equals churchgoing folk.
“It was a Sunday and we just thought that Christians might like a worship service,” he said. “As soon as we saw it was not inclusive, we worked to rectify that.”
Burghardt Kramer is more than satisfied by the town’s response to her complaint. In a letter to the editor, she complimented the town on taking decisive action.
“I applaud the town of Brandon for revising the plans for the upcoming Brandon Carnival to eliminate the Christian worship portion of the event, following objections from community members, including myself,” she wrote.
As for Moore, he said he learned a valuable lesson and will be more mindful when scheduling events in the future.
“I can see how it would raise some alarms for people,” he said of the worship service. “We just didn’t think about it. We just wanted to bring a fun event to Brandon and didn’t step back to look at how a worship service would affect people who don’t practice Christianity. Given the current political climate, we didn’t want to appear to be divisive.”

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