Thomas More Society attorneys have demanded that the Lake County Fair reverse its rejection of booth applications from Lake County Right to Life and “Peter’s Net,” an initiative promoting Lake County Catholic churches.
The Society claims that the Fair’s rejection of the groups is based on their respective religious messages, including the promotion of the Catholic Church and Church teaching by Peter’s Net and the religiously motivated pro-life message and use of a prenatal development display including life size fetal models used by Lake County Right to Life in its Fair booth for the last 37 years.
“The actions of the Lake County Fair Association violate the Illinois Human Rights Act, Title II of the federal Civil Rights Act, and the Fair’s own stated policy of nondiscrimation,” said attorney Peter Breen, Executive Director and Legal Counsel for the Thomas More Society, who is representing both groups. “Instead of following its policy, the Fair Association is headed down a path of censorship and anti-religious bias that’s both illegal and a black mark on the proud heritage of the Lake County Fair.”
According to Lake County Right to Life volunteers Bonnie Quirke and Rosemary Simon, who have worked the booth for many years, no fairgoer has ever raised a complaint or concern over the fetal models’ appropriateness. To the contrary, many fairgoers have thanked Lake County Right to Life for displaying the models, and several people even noted that viewing the displays enabled them to better understand and appreciate their pregnancies. These models are frequently used throughout the country at fairs, in churches, and schools, and are used by health presenters as well as pro-life groups.
Kathleen Van Dien of the Lake County Fair Association told Lake County Right to Life’s Quirke that the fair would consider allowing the group to have a booth if it agreed to discontinue its 37-year-long display of fetal models. When questioned as to the reason for censorship of such a long-time exhibit feature, Van Dien stated that there had been “some complaints” though she was unwilling or unable to elaborate on the specific nature or give any detail. When asked by Quirke to provide written board verification of this board decision, Van Dien refused.
In a similar move, Van Dien told Ms. Paula Emmerth, Peter’s Net’s founder, that permission for the group to return as 2012 exhibitors was denied. When asked to explain the denial, Van Dien responded that the vetting jury, and she, personally felt that the organizational message conveyed by Peter’s Net went beyond what was authentically Catholic. She also alleged “complaints” about the Peter’s Net booth, but as with the Lake County Right to Life, she would not provide details. Van Dien affirmed Emmerth’s charge of censorship, stating she was doing so to “protect the public from your message” and that the Lake County Fair was “neither the time nor the place for this topic.”
Letters sent today by Society attorneys to the Lake County Fair Association detailed the discriminatory and illegal nature of both Van Dien’s actions and the denial of these exhibitors in good standing from participating in the Lake County Fair.