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Respect Life display returning to Hampdenfest

Planned ParenthoodFamily Planning

Amid the toilet races, waiter races, cookoffs and carnival barkers of Hampdenfest 2012 will be a booth sure to draw stares.

Run by the Respect Life Committee of St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church in Hampden, the booth on The Avenue will feature pro-life pamphlets and models of healthy fetuses.

The booth wasn't at last year's Hampdenfest. Organizers said all churches were barred from the annual fall festival, based on complaints Respect Life had offended festival goers with its proselytizing during the 2010 Hampdenfest. There were no such complaints about Planned Parenthood's booth at the 2010 festival, organizers said.

Respect Life complained to the Hampden Community Council last September that it was banned for its views, an allegation festival organizers still hotly deny.

"The political perspective was not the issue," Hampdenfest co-organizer Charlotte Murray said. "The issue was their behavior at the booth."

Now, after months of tension between Respect Life and community leaders, the booth is back. Hampdenfest has stopped its no-churches stance and the pro-life committee has paid its $150 vendors' application fee. The booth will be located near the Hampden Family Center.

"They put their app in. They paid their space fee. They're in," said Genny Dill, treasurer and past president of the Hampden Community Council.

"They actually have a very good space," Murray said. "I haven't buried them far away somewhere."

But organizers made clear they will be watching Respect Life closely to see if the committee tones down its appearance at the festival Sept. 8.

"I hope they've improved their human relations," Murray said. "In my opinion, we gave them a year off to think about why we didn't want them last year. I want them to enjoy the festival — and I want them to understand that other people want to enjoy the festival, too."

Murray said she had a "straightforward" conversation with Martha Taylor, a member of the Respect Life committee, when Taylor paid her application fee recently. Murray said she told Taylor, "I have to respond to complaints I get from my attendees. They did (comment on the booth) and they didn't like it."

And she said she put Taylor on notice that "she has her opinions. I have my festival."

Taylor, who lives near the church, said she doesn't remember that kind of conversation with Murray when she paid her fee.

"We actually didn't talk about what went wrong or right, or what was going to change," Taylor said.

But Taylor said, "Mrs. Murray couldn't have been nicer to me when I dropped off my check. She was pleasant and I hope I was pleasant."

Taylor insisted there is nothing offensive about the booth. She said the committee will show "realistic" models and pictures of "healthy babies" at various stages of fetal development, such as at four weeks and four months.

"It's nothing different than a kid might see in seventh grade biology," Taylor said.

The booth will also offer "post-abortive" information and pregnancy counseling, Taylor said.

"There's nothing there that's objectionable," she said. "We're only offering positive choices. One of those choices is to have the baby."

Although the committee has been invited back, Taylor still has hard feelings about being excluded from Hampdenfest 2011.

"We were a little upset when we were thrown out," she said. "It seemed like they were banning our choice."

But Dill said, "Some of the things I had heard they were doing (in 2010) were really distasteful — about photos and pictures that were incredibly distasteful, and that's putting it nicely. And talking to young children about why abortion is bad."

Dill said she respects the committee's right to free speech and its opinion.

"I don't agree with every group that comes into the festival," she said. "That's fine. We can agree to disagree. They want to get their message out. The Hampdenfest is not out to squelch anybody's opinion.

"The only restriction they have is that every vendor needs to be aware that this is a family-friendly, kid-friendly event," Dill said. "I have faith that they will keep it tasteful."

Taylor said one vendor in particular, who was located near the Respect Life booth in 2010, did most of the complaining.

"I wouldn't be surprised if we get complaints every year," Taylor said. "(Critics) say they're for choice. But the only choice they really want is the Planned Parenthood choice."

But she said she is glad to be coming back.

"And I'm very happy that it was worked out. We made our displeasure known."

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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