The following letter from attorney Thomas Olp has been sent by the Thomas More Law Center to the governing body of the McHenry County Fair:
The letter complains about religious-based Pro-Life organizations being relegated to a “Faith Tent” or building far off the beaten track of the County Fair.
Re: McHenry County Fair’s Denial of Full and Equal Enjoyment of its Facilities, Goods and Services to Peter’s Net, McHenry Deanery Respect Life, and 1st Way Pregnancy Support Services
The organizations we represent express a pro-life viewpoint.
Two represent or are supported by the Catholic Church (Peter’s Net and the McHenry Deanery Respect Life), and the third, while not overtly faith-based, strongly supports pro-life values.
You consider all of our clients to be faith-based because of their pro-life message.
The mission of these organizations is similar, though not identical. Peter’s Net’s mission is to engage with fairgoers at county fairs like yours, and to invite them to learn about the Catholic Church and its faith.
Volunteers at the booth use a variety of interactive means to accomplish their mission, including games for children, informational handouts, and a display presenting the Catholic Church’s pro-life message by means of fetal models depicting the stages of growth of an unborn child.
The organization’s banner proclaims: “Peter’s Net, Welcome to the Catholic Church.”
As a Christian lay apostolate Peter’s Net follows the Church’s evangelization model of going out into the world, not remaining apart from it, in order to spread Jesus Christ’s good news of salvation through conversion to Him.
Volunteers make themselves available to interested patrons (including children) to answer questions and dialogue about the Catholic Church and its teachings, and to invite them to learn more and even to join (or rejoin) it. Even fair patrons who are uninterested in stopping at Peter’s Net’s booth may see its bold “Welcome to the Catholic Church” banner and remember the welcome at a later time.
The mission of McHenry Deanery Respect Life is similarly to encourage respect for human life in the community through visual and interactive means.
McHenry Deanery Respect Life educates the community on the need to care for and protect human life at all of its stages and condition, especially when persons are most vulnerable:
- the preborn
- poor and
It encourages visitors to become aware of these needs and to respond with corporal works of mercy.
1st Way Life Center’s mission is to provide support to pregnant women and girls though education, counseling, material assistance and referrals.
1st Way has served the McHenry community for 37 years and all services are provided free without discrimination.
1st Way seeks to promote the value of life in all situations and to provide hope for those who find themselves in a crisis pregnancy situation.
All three booths have been well received at the fair, as evidenced by their longevity in exhibiting.
Peter’s Net’s booth, present at the fair for four years, has proven popular with fair patrons who offer frequent praise, and its ministry has been lauded by the Archdiocese of Chicago’s official newspaper, Catholic New World, the Diocese of Rockford’s Observer, and other media sources.
Peter’s Net has since expanded to offer services to patrons of other area county fairs, including the McHenry County Fair.
The McHenry Deanery Respect Life booth has grown over the past 8 years to be a popular and successful informational outreach. It is sponsored by the 17 parishes in the Rockford Diocese’s McHenry Deanery, representing scores of thousands of area residents, many of whom, of course, patronize the fair.
1st Way Pregnancy Support Services is the veteran of the three organizations, having exhibited for 13 years, a length of participation that gives strong testimony to its popularity and effectiveness.
All three organizations (like many other commercial and informational exhibitors at the fair) relish and rely on a large flow of patrons through their exhibitor areas to fulfill their mission of attracting and engaging fair patrons.
To be relegated to a backwater, bereft of a good flow of fairgoers, would obviously detrimentally affect their outreach.
It is also important for the organizations to be able to exhibit in a mixture of religious and non-religious informational exhibitors.
This configuration reflects the natural community in which fairgoers live, and keeps patrons’ excursions through the fair various and interesting.
The mix also promotes harmony among exhibitors by allowing an exhibitor’s message to be freely expressed without the concerns occasioned by close proximity to other exhibitors whose messages may be in conflict.
Peter’s Net and the McHenry Deanery Respect Life organization are especially sensitive to the latter chilling effect as not all religious groups are pro-Catholic.
Your executive Mr. Macheroux is aware of and has followed this principle.
He specifically told Ms. Emmerth, President of Peter’s Net, when she suggested that Peter’s Net could move to Building D, that he would never allow this as it would create a potential conflict between the pro-life views of Peter’s Net and the pro-choice views of the McHenry County Citizens for Choice, associated with Planned Parenthood. (Peter’s Net agrees with the principle, but not that it could not harmoniously exhibit in Building D with a pro-choice organization anywhere in the building too.)
The fair likewise inter-spaces other types of booths with differing viewpoints (such as political booths), and protects hot dog and like vendors from the potential harm of close-by competition.
For these reasons, our clients were quite concerned when their 2015 proposed contracts arrived a few weeks ago and they learned that you propose to relegate them to a “Faith Tent” with the other faith-based organizations, rather than to allow them to return to their prior locations in Building C where they have exhibited for years.
As explained already, by separating our clients from the regular traffic flow and mixed environment in Building C, and by lumping them together with other religious exhibitors in what is essentially a religious ghetto, you will disastrously constrict their ability to communicate their message.
The Faith Tent will be accessed only by fairgoers who intentionally want to engage with faith-based booths.
This is not generally a primary motivation of fairgoers, so the effect of the segregation will be to dramatically reduce traffic to the Faith Tent.
The location of the Faith Tent is also inauspicious, placed as it is near the main entrance to the fair. This will require a fairgoer to make a decision to visit the Faith Tent immediately upon entering the fair, foregoing the allurements of the food court and amusements immediately ahead.
It is highly unlikely that many fairgoers will make that choice.
Finally, the faith-based exhibitors will be positioned side-by-side with other religious groups, an unsatisfactory position for the reasons already mentioned.
As you know, our clients have called the fair and complained about this proposed change in their contract, and the marginalization of their message that the proposal will cause.
What is particularly galling to them is that the proposal appears to them to be intended as retaliation by the fair for their pro-life message.
Larry Macheroux in 2011 made direct, disparaging remarks about the pro-life component of Peter’s Net’s religious message.
At that time Mr. Macheroux notified Ms. Emmerth’s sister, Teresa, that he had received a complaint about Peter’s Net’s fetal models by a neighboring booth, and Ms. Emmerth pointed out that there were two other pro-life booths with fetal models.
Mr. Macheroux retorted that
“As far as I am concerned, that’s three too many.” [Emphasis added.]
He further flatly stated that he supported the pro-choice message being publicized by the booth in Building D of the McHenry County Citizens for Choice, a group associated with Planned Parenthood.
When Ms. Emmerth suggested that she would be willing to relocate Peter’s Net to Building D to remove one of the three pro-life groups from Building C, he said he would never allow it because it would harm McHenry County Citizens for Choice, the booth whose message he favors.
Immediately following Mr. Macheroux’s remarks, your organization informed Ms. Emmerth that it would not allow Peter’s Net to return in 2012. The fetal model issue was specifically mentioned as the reason.
You also tried to prohibit McHenry Deanery Respect Life from distributing fetal models and other pro-life give-aways.
Ms. Emmerth told you that she would take legal action to protest your intended exclusion of her booth, and fifteen of the priests of the parishes in the McHenry County Deanery sent a letter of protest.
As a result you backed down.
But your actions this year, when read against the clear animus you expressed against our clients’ pro-life position in the past, bespeak unlawful retaliation as well as religious discrimination.
Following our clients’ complaints about your proposed change, your organization met and altered its policy slightly.
Now you say that the organizations you consider faith-based will not be placed in an outdoor “Faith Tent”, but in Building E, which last year housed the McHenry County Historical Society and some children’s agricultural education exhibits.
This year the Historical Society will remain, and the children’s agricultural education will be moved out, to be replaced by faith-based exhibitors.
But your administrator Elizabeth (last name unknown) admitted to Ms.Emmerth in a recent conversation that the fair board’s intent remains to corral the perceived “religious” exhibitors into a location separate and apart from other informational exhibitors.
With respect, this modification does not change in any way the purpose and effect of your discrimination against faith-based exhibitors, and the impact of the changed location is even more detrimental to the religious exhibitors’ ability to communicate their message to fairgoers than your plan to erect a Faith Tent.
You are still marginalizing these exhibitors in an out-of-the-way location, and depriving them of the much more desirable opportunity to exhibit with the non-religious commercial and informational booths in Buildings C or D.
And Building E is even more out of the way and uninviting to fair patrons than the Faith Tent you first proposed. It is off the busy traffic path for fairgoers.
It has a less obvious access door (unlike the large access doors to Buildings C and D), leaving patrons reasonably to assume that it is off-limits.
Since few patrons go to Building E, placing faith-based exhibitors, like our clients, there will essentially cut off their access to fairgoers.
And fairgoers who look for our clients in their normal locations in Building C for the past many years will be disappointed and confused.
The forced move also ignores the good will that our clients’ investment of time, energy and money in your fair has built up over the years.
McHenry Deanery Respect Life alone has spent $15,000 over the past eight years to develop a permanent, protected location where fairgoers can come year after year to meet and converse.
Our other clients have likewise expended generously.
The fair should recognize and respect the valuable community contribution they have made, one that should be encouraged and supported, not shunted off to the side because some of your board members are unable to see it.
Your rationale for wanting to segregate the religious groups seems contrived.
You claim that want to increase gradually the number of commercial vendors in Building C, but you have left intact most of the non-commercial informational exhibitors there, all of them non-religious, and you have left untouched the non-religious exhibitors in Building D.
We can discern no coherent rationale for leaving all the non-religious informational exhibitors untouched by the policy change and only forcing religious exhibitors to move.
Animus against religion, and specifically the pro-life message you consider to be religious, appears to them to be the only plausible motivation, and it is a palpable one given Mr. Macheroux’s statements of hostility to our clients’ booths and message.
The McHenry County Fair Association is a “public accommodation” under the Illinois Human Rights Law, 775 ILCS 5/1 et seq. because it is a “place of exhibition or entertainment,” a “place of public gathering,” and a “place of recreation.” 775 ILCS 5/5-101(3), (4), (10).
Your requirement under the Illinois Human Rights Law is not to deny based on religion
“the full and equal enjoyment of the facilities, goods, and services” of the fair. 775 ILCS 5/5-102(A).
An identical requirement binds you under Title II of the Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. §2000a, which provides that
“[a]ll persons shall be entitled to the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, and accommodations of any place of public accommodation, as defined in this section, without discrimination on the ground of race, color, religion, or national origin.”
Your status as a non-profit organization, exempt from taxation under IRC §501(c)(3), also prohibits you from discrimination on the basis of religious belief or creed, thus putting your 501(c)(3) status potentially at risk when you, as we suggest, discriminate invidiously on the basis of religion.
It seems clear to us that your proposal to our clients falls short of the requirements of these laws.
Our clients are entitled to “full and equal enjoyment” of the fair’s “facilities, goods, and services.”
By segregating them and the other religious-based exhibitors to a faith-based ghetto, you have denied them the full and equal enjoyment of the fair’s facilities (exhibit opportunities).
No longer in the main stream of fair-going traffic and no longer in the regular mix of exhibitors, our clients are being denied the same opportunity to express their religious message to fairgoers that you grant to non-religious informational exhibitors.
Fairgoers will have to make a deliberate effort to walk to the “faith building,” which is not in the normal traffic flow, and few likely will make this effort.
These conditions are not being imposed on non-religious informational booths, or on the pro-
choice exhibitor, McHenry County Citizens for Choice, whom you leave untouched, apparently because you favor its message.
- Peter’s Net
- the McHenry Deanery Respect Life organization, and
- 1st Way Pregnancy Support Services
in the way you propose would be unacceptable and illegal if your actions were motivated by race.
The discrimination is no more acceptable or legal when it is based on religion.
“Separate but equal” is a doctrine that has been long rejected in race relations.
It deserves no better fate when the basis for discrimination is religion.
Your fair appropriately touts diversity as part of your appeal to the public.
You invite a full range of the community to participate as exhibitors in the fair, from commercial vendors such as Tupperware, to professionals such as chiropractors, to religious and political organizations, and others.
Maintaining diversity requires tolerance and consideration for the varying identities and needs of exhibitors, as well as for the points of view they express.
The intolerance you are showing toward exhibitors you categorize as faith-based contradicts your otherwise laudable appeal and mission.
For these reasons, we respectfully urge you to re-think your policy with respect to your category of faith-based exhibitors.
We urge you to re-integrate the faith-based exhibitors into the Building areas where other non-faith-based informational booth operators are still permitted to exhibit.
Should you refuse to do this, our clients will take appropriate legal action to secure their right to freely exercise their religion and to remain free of retaliation.
We sincerely hope this will not be necessary.
We would appreciate your prompt decision in writing in response to this letter, as we will soon need to assess and take appropriate action on behalf of our clients, should we be required to do so.
Please be so kind as to respond within two weeks of receipt of this letter, by Tuesday, June 2, 2015.
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The 2015 Board of Directors are
- Alden Township………Pam Linneman
- Algonquin Township……..Kelly Sadowski
- Burton Township…….Richard Tobiasz (Vice President)
- Chemung Township…….Richard Crone
- Coral Township…….Ken Bauman (President)
- Dorr Township…….Jeff Schumacher
- Dunham Township…….Walter Davidson
- Grafton Township…….Dan Fruin
- Greenwood Township…….Casey Given
- Hartland Township…….Larry Macheroux
- Hebron Township……..Phil Walters
- Marengo Township…….Susan Simons (Secretary)
- McHenry Township…….Seat Open
- Nunda Township…….seat open
- Richmond Township…….Chris Holian
- Riley Township…….Kathy Meyer
- Seneca Township…….Brett Geiseke
- At Large…….Cynthia Erckfritz
- At Large…….Colin Jeschke
- At Large…….Frank Kearns
- At Large…….Tom Linneman (Treasurer)
- At Large…….Chad Bauer