Anti-abortion group accuses Walworth County Fair Foundation of discrimination

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Andrea Anderson
Wednesday, February 12, 2014

ELKHORN—An anti-abortion group is accusing the Walworth County Fair Foundation of discrimination for denying the group's request for a booth at the fair again this summer.

A letter from the Thomas More Society and Wisconsin attorney Jerome Buting representing the organization Peter's Net sets a deadline of Wednesday, Feb. 12, for fair officials to respond.

Buting said they are prepared to take the matter to the Civil Rights Bureau of the state Department of Workforce Development or to file a lawsuit.

The fair foundation received the letter Tuesday, Feb. 11, said Susan Pruessing, Walworth County Fair public relations coordinator.

“I don't have any comment right now,” Pruessing said Tuesday afternoon.

The Gazette was not able to reach members of the fair foundation board for comment.

Peter's Net is an Illinois-based non-profit and Evangelical organization. The organization accuses the fair of not allowing it to return because of the group's pro-life stance and religious beliefs, according to an eight-page letter written by the law firm.

“Peter's Net's expression reflects a high-profile and core teaching of the Catholic Church (the dignity of all human life from conception to natural death), suppression of this organization in order to gain 'peace and quiet,' as has happened here, is a violation of the law," the letter reads.

During the 2013 fair, a member of the fair staff told the executive director of Peter's Net three reasons why the fair would not accept the organization's 2014 booth registration deposit, according to the letter.

The reasons, according to the letter, included:

-- A previous exhibitor had first claim on the booth space because the exhibitor had been there for several years prior. In 2013, the exhibitor was unable to attend because of a family matter.

-- Fair staff heard negative comments regarding the organization's booth.

-- The organization's booth had fetal models similar to the models at the Pregnancy Hot Line booth. Fair staff told the organization the fair has the right to refuse an organization if it duplicates another.

The letter, dated Jan. 29, calls the reasons “unpersuasive” and “unlawful discrimination.”

Peter's Net has the right to educate the public on religious practices and beliefs because of its right to religious speech, the letter states.

The fair's motives are best seen through a patron's reaction to the organization's booth last summer, according to the letter.

A mother of a 7-year-old boy who attended the fair with an adult neighbor or friend complained to the fair staff that a Peter's Net booth volunteer gave her son a 2-inch model of an 11-week-old unborn baby as a game prize, according to the letter.

The baby was in a clear bag that also contained information cards. One card explained fetal development, the other had abortion statistics. The organization states the baby was not a prize and only available to teens, adults, and children with adult permission, according to the letter.

Fair staff received the complaint on the second day of the fair, Aug. 29, 2013, and told Peter's Net volunteers to give the baby models only to people 18 or older, preventing the group from reaching its target audience of teenage girls, according to the letter.

On Aug. 31, the mother returned to the Peter's Net booth and told the volunteers that fair staff had promised her the organization would not be allowed to return, according to the letter.

The Peter's Net staff were told on the last day of the fair, Sept. 2, 2013, they could not return, the letter states.

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