By Rick Palsgrove
A city of Groveport Apple Butter Day vendor form stirred up controversy with some citizens.
The form included a highlighted line regarding the sale of items at the event that read, “No faith based items. No items containing profanities or socially offensive language.”
Religious groups who regularly have booths at Apple Butter Day took offense at the line and expressed their concerns on social media. Two individuals also spoke at the Aug. 28 Groveport City Council meeting about it.
“You’ve (the city) lumped us in with other categories like profane and socially offensive language,” said David Cuthbert of Groveport Zion Lutheran Church, whose group sells sandwiches at Apple Butter Day. “Churches heavily support this community.”
“This is a slap in the face of the faith community and we feel ostracized,” said citizen Lori McConkey.
When city officials heard about the controversy brewing on social media alleging the city changed its policy with respect to what vendors may participate and/or sell at Apple Butter Day, they issued a statement on Aug. 22 clarifying the issue.
“This is simply not the case,” read the city’s statement. “The city’s longstanding policy is to prohibit the sale of any religious items on city property during an event that is sponsored by the city of Groveport. This policy is consistent with current case law interpreting the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution which prohibits any governmental activity that either aids or inhibits the free exercise of religion. This policy has been in effect for at least 30 years if not longer. The stated policy was set forth on this year’s Apple Butter Day vendor application to provide clarity to vendors as to what may be sold at the festival.”
The city’s statement emphasized that the city “has not banned the participation of any of our community’s churches and/or religious institutions from participating in this or any other community events.”
The statement went on to say the mayor, city council, and city administration “always encouraged, and will continue to encourage, churches and religious institutions to take part in Groveport sponsored community events.” It noted several churches have established “a welcomed tradition of selling various food items, baked goods and/or craft items that make the Groveport Apple Butter Day Festival one of Central Ohio’s favorite fall festivals. The city will continue to foster and promote this tradition.”
Councilwoman Jean Ann Hilbert said social media can inflame issues.
“Social media can blow things out of proportion,” said Hilbert. “When things happen, call us (city officials) first. We try to reach out.”