Lake County Fair Association-Peter’s NetPage 2 of 3June 26, 2012
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“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” – Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King
communicating information about the Catholic Church. She also alleged “complaints” about the booth,but could not or would not provide details. Ms. Emmerth asked Ms. Van Dien whether she was“censoring” its message. Ms. Van Dien said that indeed she was. She said she was doing so to “protectthe public from your message” and that the fair was “neither the time nor the place for this topic.” Ms.Van Dien also refused to put the rejection in writing for Peter’s Net.We are writing this letter because Ms. Van Dien’s rejection of the booth application illegallydiscriminates against Peter’s Net on account of its Catholic religious beliefs and practices. Ms. VanDien’s stated disdain for Catholic teaching and the vetting jury’s decision to censor the booth from theFair exhibit a clear unlawful intent to discriminate on the basis of religion. Since the Fair is a “publicaccommodation” under the Illinois Human Rights Act and Title II of the federal Civil Rights Act, theseactions, if persisted in, expose the Fair to religious discrimination liability.The Fair Association’s conduct respecting Peter’s Net is also illegal because it contravenes theconditions for its 501(c)(3) public charity status,
., that it must refrain from discriminating,
,on the basis of “religion or political preference.” (See, the Fair’s Vendor Overview, which promises thatit “does not discriminate according to race, sexual orientation, religion or political preference.”) Peter’sNet’s message falls directly within the category of religious expression, and its suppression is asuppression of religious practice and religion. But the Catholic message also has political ramifications,which were, we are sure, not lost on Ms. Van Dien or the vetting committee. Since by its own non-discrimination policy the Fair may not prefer one political message to another, so too it may not silenceone religious message over another. We are certain the Fair never considered rejecting applications bythe Republican or Democratic party booths. Its silencing of Peter’s Net is likewise unjustifiable andillegal.We also note that the Fair’s behavior contravenes its policy to accept “Information Booths,”defined as “not-for-profit organizations such as libraries, service groups, churches, etc.” As a servicegroup supporting Catholic parishes and the Catholic faith, Peter’s Net squarely falls into this approvedcategory, and so its application should have been approved. The Fair’s reservation of rights under the“Vetting” section of its Vendor Overview does not allow it to discriminate against an otherwiseacceptable booth’s
message and its manner of expression. Nor may it discriminate againstreligious speech in reliance on a stray negative comment or complaint concerning its content or meansof expression. Nondiscrimination with respect to religious and political speech in a publicaccommodation requires some measure of deafness to complaints of disgruntled listeners. Otherwise,mere griping would sanction religious discrimination. In the same way the Fair does not censoropposing political booths, it must not allow the religious messages it favors and censor the religiousmessages it opposes.The Fair Association’s denial of a permit to Peter’s Net to exhibit at this year’s Lake County Fairis illegal and indefensible. Please immediately grant permission to Peter’s Net to have its booth again inthis year’s fair, just as it has in prior years’ fairs. Should the Lake County Fair Association refuse andpersist in its illegal discrimination against Peter’s Net, we are prepared to pursue the matter with theIllinois Human Rights Commission, in court, and before other appropriate forums, and even beyond thescheduled Fair dates, to protect our client’s rights both for this year and in the future.