The Templeton Fourth of July parade became a source of controversy Monday when an anti-abortion activist group refused to withdraw a float decorated with fetus photos despite protests from parade organizers.
The Kiwanis Club of Templeton, which has organized the parade for the past 39 years, does not allow political floats, said Bill Pelfrey, the parade director. Political candidates are allowed to participate but cannot campaign or distribute materials during the parade, he said.
The float in question was put together by the Abolitionist Society of San Luis Obispo, an anti-abortion organization that also protests in-vitro fertilization, embryonic stem cell research and certain forms of birth control that members deem “abortifacients,” or abortion-inducing drugs. The organization’s website refers to fetuses as “oppressed people” and urges members to “create conflict” to communicate their message.
Pelfrey said when he and his wife, Gwen, the parade organizer, viewed the site after receiving the organization’s application, it seemed to suggest the group was protesting slavery, not abortion. The website has been changed since they submitted the application, Bill Pelfrey said. The site now specifically says its purpose is to “abolish human abortion.”
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When asked to outline the theme on the float application, Danny Ehinger, the group’s director, titled the piece, “Where the Spirit of God is There is Freedom — Let Freedom Ring!” He described the float as “a juxtaposition between the freedom we hold in our ideal and the freedom that is still being withheld to so many around the world.” There was no mention of abortion.
When the float was unveiled just before the parade was to begin, Pelfrey said he was surprised to see a model Statue of Liberty atop baby dolls with arms and legs poking out from underneath. A large sign with a photo of a fetus and the words, “This is your Holocaust” adorned the back of the float. Photos of fetuses also were featured on the sides.
Pelfrey said he thinks the organization intentionally deceived Kiwanis by not revealing the political nature of the float.
“They lied,” he said. “In my opinion, they committed fraud on Kiwanis.”
Ehinger said he was never asked whether the float was abortion-themed, which isn’t a topic he sees as political.
Pelfrey said he tried to keep Ehinger from driving the float in the parade, but Kiwanis has never before had to force an unwilling party out of the parade. He enlisted the help of San Luis Obispo Sheriff’s Cmdr. Ken Conway, who happened to be at the parade. Conway “mediated a dispute” and “was able to get both sides to agree to allow the float in the parade,” Sheriff’s Office spokesman Tony Cipolla said.
Even so, both men said the float was subsequently blocked and then forced its way into the parade, much to the dismay of some families lining the route.
Sarah Maggelet, Templeton Chamber of Commerce executive director, said some attendees later called to complain about the float, which she said “caused a lot of distress for patrons of the parade.”
“The group saw a loophole and they pushed it,” Maggelet said.
Ehinger said the group never intentionally misled Kiwanis and that their site contains all the relevant information about the organization. When asked whether he understood why families might be bothered by the presence of such a float, Ehinger said he thought a Fourth of July parade was the perfect setting for a discussion about abortion.
“I designed the float so you could look at it and it would be beautiful,” he said.
Pelfrey said Kiwanis members were frustrated by the float because they pride themselves on putting on a “hometown parade” that’s open to all. The organization will meet Friday to attempt to close any potential loopholes and ensure there are mechanisms for removing floats organizers deem inappropriate. The Abolitionist Society will not be welcome in the future, Pelfrey said.
“It was just totally appalling,” he said. “It’s not what Kiwanis is about.”