Group accuses Walworth County Fair of religious speech discrimination

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Staff | February 11, 2014

ELKHORN--The Walworth County Fair is being accused of discrimination against religious speech because it is not allowing a Catholic  organization to renew its fair booth in 2014, according to a news release from a public relations firm representing the Thomas More Society.

The society, which is a Chicago-based public interest law firm, and a Wisconsin attorney for a Catholic group called Peter's  Net are asking the Walworth County Fair Board to reconsider its decision denying  the group to renew its application for a booth at this year's fair and accept its deposit.

Peter's Net promotes Catholic teaching and Catholic churches in Walworth County. Booth operators typically use visuals and activities in their promotion.

According to Paula Emmerth, executive director of Peter's Net, her group hosted a booth at the 2013 Walworth County Fair. She said fair staff members told her she didn't violate any probationary requirements for first-time exhibitors. But Emmerth said at the close of the fair, two staff members told her they would not accept Peter's Net's deposit for a 2014 booth reservation, and gave her only “vague reasons” for the denial, according to the release.

Buting and the Thomas More Society say the excuses are simply that, and the fair's rejection of the group is contrary to its standard policy for returning exhibitors. The rejection, representatives say, amounts to illegal discrimination against religious speech.

“By silencing Peter's Net's religious speech, the Fair is wielding the censor's scissors out of anti-religious bias,” said Thomas Brejcha, president and chief counsel of the Thomas More Society, in the release. “The First Amendment guarantee of free speech and the civil rights law guaranteeing religious liberty on the part of places of public law guaranteeing religious liberty on the part of places of public accommodation alike compel the Fair Foundation to allow religious speech and a full and equal voice.”

Read the complete letter from Buting and the Thomas More Society to the Walworth County Fair Board HERE.

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