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SPOTLIGHT
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Fair attraction

Published on -8/29/2012, 9:29 AM

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As the Kansas State Fairgrounds in Hutchinson readies for the 100th State Fair, a lawsuit has been filed challenging the event's dedication to the First Amendment. How the legal challenge is remediated will affect what fairgoers are treated to as they stroll the grounds.

The Kansas State Fair is the largest single event in the state. Some 350,000 people attend the 10-day celebration, which kicks off Sept. 7. The fair's mission is "to promote and showcase Kansas agriculture, industry and culture, to create opportunity for commercial activity, and to provide an educational and entertaining experience that is the pride of all Kansans."

The animal-rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals is pushing the boundaries of what might be considered educational and entertaining.

PETA, which already has a booth reserved, wants fairgoers to view instances of animal abuse as well as animals being slaughtered. The group apparently has a graphic documentary titled "Glass Walls" showing what goes on at factory farms. The state fair board has agreed to let PETA display the graphic images, but wants them behind partitions. That way people who want to see them can, and those who don't won't have to.

"I've never seen anything like this," said Doug Bonney, the legal director for the ACLU Foundation of Kansas and Western Missouri, "this is a classic content-based restriction on what the speaker can say, which I think is unconstitutional."

The American Civil Liberties Union is helping represent PETA. The motion filed Tuesday requests the court to remove the restrictions imposed by the fair board.

"We are always going to aggressively defend our rights to speak up for animals who have no voice," said PETA attorney Jeff Kerr. "So whether it is this fair, or anywhere else, we are going to fight for the right to show our video and expose the cruelty of the meat industry."

Really? At an event that's targeted to families and children? Even the most humane method of turning Porky into bacon is bound to be profoundly disturbing for a child. That strikes us as beyond the pale even for an organization renowned for its shock tactics.

The court should side with the Kansas State Fair on this one. We don't see how it could do otherwise.

The fair has complete control over its grounds. The same vendor contract PETA had to have signed allows the fair to decide what's offensive, in poor taste, or even what might be derogatory to another exhibitor in any way. The agreement explicitly reads: "Our primary audience consists of family and youth. The Kansas State Fair reserves the right to reject any exhibit and/or contents that may be considered objectionable by that audience."

It isn't as if PETA is being denied space at the event. The fair simply is demanding the group exercise a little restraint. Movie producers aren't denied their First Amendment rights when ratings prohibit or limit what age child can view the work. Without even seeing "Glass Walls," we can't imagine it being appropriate for even quick glances from a small child.

This is a common-sense issue hardly deserving of a court's time.

Editorial by Patrick Lowry

plowry@dailynews.net

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