Tuesday, February 11, 2014

County fair discriminates against Catholic religious speech by denying group’s application to renew its fair booth

The Thomas More Society, a Chicago-based public interest law firm, together with Wisconsin attorney Jerome Buting, have demanded that the Walworth County (Wisconsin) Fair reverse its initial rejection of booth renewal from “Peter’s Net,” a group promoting Catholic teaching and Catholic churches in Walworth County.

Thomas More Society claims that the fair’s rejection of the group is contrary to the fair’s standard policy for returning exhibitors and that it amounts to illegal discrimination against religious speech. The Peter’s Net booth promotes Catholic Church teaching through visuals and activities.

“The Walworth County Fair staff’s apparent discrimination against Peter’s Net’s religious display violates the Wisconsin Equal Rights Programs statute, which prohibits discrimination based on a person’s creed,” said Attorney Jerome Buting of Brookfield, WI, co-counsel with Thomas More Society, representing Peter’s Net.

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

According to Paula Emmerth, executive director of Peter’s Net, her group hosted a booth at the 2013 Walworth County Fair, which Fair staff members affirmed to Ms. Emmerth did not violate any of the Fair’s probationary requirements for first time exhibitors. The Peter’s Net booth fully complied with the Fair Foundation’s own principles, “provid[ing] the citizens of our area with a wholesome and educational experience.” Nevertheless, at the close of the fair, two fair staff members informed Ms. Emmerth that the fair would not accept Peter’s Net’s deposit for a 2014 booth reservation. The staff gave vague reasons for the denial, which the Thomas More Society and Attorney Buting contend are pretextual, and really amount to unlawful discrimination against the group’s religious speech.

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