PETA suit lingers as fair nears first day [The Hutchinson News, Kan.]By Amy Bickel, The Hutchinson News, Kan.McClatchy-Tribune Information Services
Sept. 02--The Kansas State Fair begins in just one week and the fairgrounds are humming with activity.
Displays are going up, food stands are being cleaned and even the Ye Old Mill water ride was turning this week in preparation for a crowd of 350,000 people over a 10-day span.
But on Thursday morning, amid the activity and buzz, Fair Manager Denny Stoecklein and his staff were still grappling with the fact that an animal rights organization is suing them. They sat in the conference room of the fair's administration building where, via conference call, the fair board met in executive session to discuss the legal matter regarding the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.
PETA members say their freedom of speech is being denied with the fair's request they shield their new video from those just passing by. Fair officials have said that the video, which depicts graphic images, can only be viewable to those who want to step into PETA's booth space.
There isn't much that fair officials are allowed to say on the lawsuit, which is being handled by the Kansas Attorney General's Office. In addition, such incidents haven't occurred during recent fairs. Other exhibitors, from the Kansas Women's Christian Temperance Union to the Kansans For Life group, don't show graphic imagines at their fair booths. Fairgoers can walk into the birthing center building if they choose to see baby animals and potentially get a glimpse of a live birth.
According to the fair's policy manual for exhibitors, the "Kansas State Fair reserves the right to offer space based on product, building or area space is available, size of space required, maintaining a balanced program of products throughout the Fairgrounds, and attractiveness of the exhibit. The exhibit should be consistent with the Fair's Mission and be in the best interests of the Kansas State Fair."
Some of the details of the lawsuit more than likely will come to light on Tuesday when Stoecklein and others head to Wichita for a federal court hearing just days before the kickoff of the 100th Kansas State Fair.
Fair officials won't deny this is all happening in the busiest of times as they put finishing touches on their biggest event of the year.
"There are so many positives that we are preparing for," Stoecklein said. "We are excited that the 100th fair begins a week from (Friday), and we are already preparing for the 100th birthday in 2013."
PETA targeting livestock shows, 4-H
According to a federal document filing, Commercial Exhibits Director Sue Stoecklein offered PETA space at the fair in an Aug. 10 email.
PETA's attorney, Gabe Walters, wrote Stoecklein back saying that PETA didn't agree with the following requirement:
"Any videos, including "Glass Walls" or pictures of any kind that depict animal slaughter, animal harvest, hide removal or show or depict live animals being decapitated, dismembered or butchered must be shielded so that the video or pictures may not be readily visible to passersby or the general public on any side of the booth and so each individual viewer makes a conscious choice to view the video or pictures."
"PETA objects to this requirement as a content-based restraint on its freedom of speech," Walters wrote.
Paul McCartney, a vegan, narrates the 13-minute "Glass Walls" video.
PETA is targeting state fairs this year, the first being earlier this month in Iowa. PETA also is at the State Fair of Colorado and the State Fair of Texas rejected PETA's booth request last year.
Texas' fair, however, is a private, not-for-profit, compared to the Kansas fair, which is a state agency.
Jeff Kerr, PETA's general counsel who also is a vegan, said that the group also would be at the Utah State Fair. They have had no big incidents, he said, at any fair.
"We have been at state fairs before, and we will keep going to state fairs," Kerr said. "One of the main reasons is that it is a venue for the agriculture industry to peddle its products to customers."
Kerr said the group's aim is to shed light on the plight of animals that he says are routinely beaten and kicked by workers. He also claimed 4-H teaches children to respect some animals, like cats and dogs, and disrespect others looked at as a commodity, such as cattle.
He added that fairgoers, including children, don't have to watch the video.
"That is what the first amendment is about, giving free and equal access so people can watch and read and listen as they choose," he said. "The Kansas State Fair is attempting to infringe on that freedom."
A page on PETA's website is dedicated to what they call "exploitive animal displays" at state and county fairs -- giving information against animal agriculture and livestock showmanship events.
"Animals suffer tremendously when they are carted from town to town and forced to perform," according to the website. "They live in an almost constant state of discomfort, frustration, depression and anxiety."
Along with fairs, PETA also is against 4-H, even placing a banner inside their booth at the State Fair of Colorado, changing the four Hs of 4-H -- head, heart, hands, health -- to stand for hell, hazard, hypocritical and heart attack.
"The young boys and girls who participate in these events often don't know that the animals they raised and love will be slaughtered for monetary gain," PETA states on its website.
Those statements are simply not true, says groups like the Kansas Livestock Association.
"PETA is a group with a vegetarian agenda masked under the heading of campaigning for animal rights. We believe in freedom of speech, but along with that goes the obligation of truth and accuracy," said Scarlett Hagins, spokeswoman for the livestock organization.
"Their claims about the involvement of youth and animals in livestock shows are inaccurate and unfounded," she said. "Involvement in raising and showing livestock allows kids to learn life skills that will help them throughout their entire life such as work ethic, honesty, integrity, sportsmanship and the power of the life cycle. The daily chores required, like feeding, watering and grooming, teach responsibility and the importance of good animal care practices."
PETA and fairs
PETA has showed the "Glass Walls" video at at least two state fairs this year.
State Fair of Colorado General Manager Chris Wiseman said PETA has a 10-by-10 booth at the fair, which was in day six of 11 Thursday. The fair received the request from PETA and sought advisement from Colorado's Attorney General.
"We are a state agency and receive taxpayer dollars," he said of why the group has a commercial space.
He said PETA is showing the "Glass Walls" video to passersby and that the video was still under advisement from the AG's office.
"If I have the opportunity to move it I will," he said, but added fairs have long been soapboxes for politicians and advocate groups.
Moreover, he said, PETA's booth is a small part of a fair that encompasses several buildings and acres dedicated to 4-H and agriculture.
"We support 4-H and FFA, and we support ag and the state of Colorado," he said. "I'm not thrilled with (PETA's) message ... The 4-H kids have worked hard and their message is stronger than anything that PETA has in their booth."
He said he hasn't had a specific complaint about the booth from the 515,000-some fairgoers attending this year's 140th state fair. He has heard concerns from agriculture groups and livestock organizations.
"PETA has been a small distraction," he said. "We are dedicated to agriculture, that is why we are a fair. It is disappointing that they are here, but everything else has a bigger message."
At Iowa, PETA tore down its booth after a dispute with fair organizers over profanity in a video being shown. They decided to leave rather than edit a video to remove profanity, the Des Moines Register reported. A few days later, the group and fair organizers had worked out an agreement that PETA could leave the audio on, but had to remove the word from the video's subtitles.
Lori Chappell, the Iowa fair's marketing director, said the fair would have had no qualms about the booth without the video.
PETA "chose to tear down," Chappell said, adding that the fair doesn't allow such four-letter words "from the family-friendly perspective."
That is the goal of all fairs, said Marla Calico, director of education with the Springfield, Mo.-based International Association of Fairs and Expeditions, a group in which the Kansas State Fair is a member.
The commercial aspect of fairs has long been a part of the industry since the beginning, she said. Fairs are market places where groups and business market their wares and visitors come to gain knowledge.
"They want to keep it fun, keep it safe and make sure the agriculture mission of the fair is true," she said. "When these issues come out, it distracts you from what you have to accomplish."
Calico managed the non-profit Ozark Empire Fair in Springfield for years. However, as a private fair organization, she was able to restrict certain vendors. For instance, she said her fair in the past restricted a T-shirt vendor selling items with profanity.
The Kansas State Fair is under the umbrella of the state government.
However, she said, there is a philosophy most people expect to experience when coming to a fair.
"We did everything in our power to have a family fun-filled experience," Calico said. "That included management of our commercial spaces in order that someone wouldn't have to see something that they would not want to."
Anything else would go against "social norms," she said.
"You can stop and step inside a booth and see more or you can walk on past," she said of the choice.
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