Group settles with Walworth County Fair

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Catherine W. Idzerda
Wednesday, May 7, 2014

ELKHORN—A Catholic group will be allowed to return to the Walworth County Fair after initially being banned.

On Wednesday, the Thomas More Society, the Chicago-based public interest law firm, and Wisconsin attorney Jerome Buting announced that they had reached an agreement with the fair that will allow Peter's Net to return.

The group agreed to distribute age-appropriate materials, said Susan Pruessing, public relations coordinator for the fair. In 2013, a parent complained that her child had been given a model of a 11-week-old unborn child. Peter's Net agreed to give out such items only with parental permission.

The group is pleased to be back at the fair, said Sarah Halbur, director of communications for the Thomas More Society.

"Peter's Net will be held to the same vendor guidelines as the other vendors," Halbur said.

Buting said the group was "thrilled that Peter's Net will be able to return to the Walworth County Fair in 2014 and that this issue has been resolved in an amicable manner.  We look forward to a positive experience at next year's fair for both Peter's Net and the fair's patrons.”

Peter's Net describes itself as a lay organization formed to promote Catholic teaching and publicize area Catholic churches at regional fairs.

After the 2013 fair, a member of the fair's staff gave the executive director of Peter's Net three reasons for declining its 2014 booth registration. They included:

— A previous exhibitor had first claim on the booth space because the exhibitor had been there for several years prior.

— Fair staff heard negative comments about the booth.

— The fair has the right to refuse an organization if it duplicates another. The Pregnancy Hotline has fetal models similar to those at Peter's Net's booth.

A letter to the fair association dated Jan. 29, attorneys for the Thomas More Society called the reasons “unpersuasive” and “unlawful discrimination.”

Attorneys said that it was a patron's reaction to the booth that made the fair change its mind. According to the Jan. 29 letter: 

A mother of a 7-year-old boy 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 bag that also contained information cards. One card explained fetal development, the other had abortion statistics. The organization said the baby was not a prize or a toy and only available to teens, adults, and children with adult permission, according to the letter.

In response, fair staff 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.

The mother returned to the Peter's Net booth and told the volunteers that fair staff had promised her organization would not be allowed to return. The mother shouted, “I got you kicked out,” at booth volunteers and began to harass them, according to the letter.  Volunteers felt threatened enough to call 911.

At the time, attorneys for the group said they were willing to take the matter to the Civil Rights Bureau of the state Department of Workforce Development or to file a lawsuit.

On Wednesday, fair board president Dave Adams said fair officials had talked with Peter's Net representatives.

“We thought some things at the fair should be age appropriate,” Adams said.

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