The Lake County Fair Association has reversed a decision to deny county fair booth space to abortion opponents who had argued the original ruling was discriminatory.
Lake County Right to Life, a nonprofit that has had a booth at the Lake County Fair for the past 37 years, and Peter's Net, an initiative promoting Lake County Catholic churches, had contended the denial of the space was a violation of civil rights and the fair's own policy of discrimination. The contention was made Tuesday and sent to the media by the Thomas More Society, a public interest law firm.
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"It was strictly a business decision," Lake County Fair Association President Kelli Kepler-Yarc said Wednesday of the original denial.
Kepler-Yarc said the association is remodeling the expo hall at the Grayslake fairgrounds, has added a large stage and will bring the agricultural expo inside for this year's event. The county fair is scheduled for July 25 to 29 at the fairgrounds on Peterson and Midlothian roads.
"We have spacing issues. We have limited capacity," she said.
That meant some vendors, including Right to Life and Peter's Net, were denied space, according to Kepler-Yarc. She said she did not immediately have specifics but added the reversal was based on a review of submitted booth spaces.
Decisions on booth spaces are made on a case-by-case basis, she said.
"We're just basing it on the number of vendors we have coming in and trying to make it even," Kepler-Yarc said. "We have a total of 116 booths, and we've had double that in applications for booth space."
Right to Life President Bonnie Quirke isn't convinced and claimed she had originally been told the group's booth space request would only be granted if it dropped its life-size fetal abortion models.
"They were very willing to step on our feet and infringe on our freedom until the media got involved and a legal organization sent them a letter," Quirke said. "We have every bit as much right as anybody else to show what we stand for ... which is something the fair does not want shown. People can choose not to look at (the fetal models) or not to, but the right to have it there is paramount."
Peter's Net founder Paula Emmerth also said she was told the group's fetal models were a main reason for the application denial. Emmerth additionally maintained the sales and event manager had told her she was "protecting the public from your message," and that the fair was "neither the time nor place for this topic."
"We're very, very happy and grateful that we're able to continue to express our religion and the teachings of our faith in public; we're sorry we had to fight to do so," Emmerth said.
Kepler-Yarc said no action will be taken against any employees.
"We didn't have any intention of censoring the content or forcing public opinion," she said.
Peter Breen, executive director and legal counsel for the Thomas More Society, said no legal action will be taken.
"We're very glad. This now allows the Lake County Fair to represent all the people of Lake County and represent the variety of viewpoints and religious traditions in Lake County," Breen said. "That is what a county fair is about: ... to have a robust discussion, have some cotton candy, see Republican folks, Democratic folks, pro-life folks, pro-choice folks, Catholic folks, Presbyterian folks ... That's a strength of the community."