Question: Why was an anti-abortion group allowed to set up in the middle of the Downtown Appleton Farm Market? The group had very graphic, disturbing posters that were inappropriate for a family event. Does this group pay for space like the farmers do? And with social distancing supposedly in effect at the market, why were children without masks allowed to come within 6 feet of shoppers to hand out anti-abortion literature? I left without buying anything.
Answer: The abortion protesters who appeared at the farm market on July 11 and 25 have caused a significant amount of concern among vendors and customers, but there is little that Appleton Downtown Inc., the organizer of the farm market, can do about it.
Jennifer Stephany, executive director of ADI, said the abortion protesters are not a permitted vendor of the farm market and do not pay for space. Rather, they walk in and station themselves at the intersection of College Avenue and Morrison Street.
“ADI has been informed by legal counsel and the Appleton Police Department that the First Amendment protects demonstrators such as those that have been on College Avenue during the farm market in recent weeks,” Stephany said.
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ADI staff asked the protesters to relocate to open space in Houdini Plaza or to an area outside the farm market, but they refused.
“We feel like our hands are really tied,” Stephany said. “It’s a very challenging situation for us.”
Appleton police responded to the farm market for complaints about the protesters and determined their activities were protected as free speech.
“They were in a public place,” officer Meghan Cash said. “Even though an event permit for the market was in place, it is not a private location.”
Regarding the second concern, ADI requires its staff, vendors and service providers to wear masks and socially distance to reduce the spread of the coronavirus. It also strongly encourages people attending the farm market to wear masks and socially distance.
That’s as far as it can go.
“Since there is no legal requirement to wear masks or socially distance on the public streets, ADI does not have the ability to stop interaction between those persons legally at the farm market,” Stephany said.
Gov. Tony Evers issued an executive order Thursday requiring Wisconsin residents to wear face masks, but it’s only applicable indoors.
Post-Crescent reporter Duke Behnke answers your questions about local government. Send questions to email@example.com or call him at 920-993-7176.