Thursday, January 23, 2003

Anti-abortion rally causes stir

Ky. diocese's breakfast violated Smithsonian policy

By Carl Weiser, Enquirer Washington Bureau
and Maggie Downs, The Cincinnati Enquirer

[photo] Sen. Jim Bunning, R-Ky., speaks in the Smithsonian Institution before the Right to Life March. The rally violated Smithsonian policy.
(Michael E. Keating photo)
| ZOOM |
WASHINGTON -The Diocese of Covington's breakfast and anti-abortion rally Wednesday at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History brought some unexpected aftereffects: a denunciation from a New York congresswoman and an apology from the museum.

It turns out the breakfast, held in conjunction with the annual March for Life against Roe v. Wade, violated Smithsonian policy against hosting political events.

"I am very concerned that the Smithsonian Institution, which is supported largely by federal funds and should welcome all Americans, not take a position on highly controversial issues that are clearly outside the scope of its mission," said Rep. Louise Slaughter, a Western New York Democrat. She co-chairs the Congressional Arts Caucus and the Congressional Pro-Choice Caucus.

Ms. Slaughter, a Harlan County, Ky., native and University of Kentucky graduate, issued a news release late Wednesday saying the breakfast was the result of "bad judgment" by the museum and Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. Mr. McConnell and Sen. Jim Bunning, R-Ky., spoke at the breakfast rally to about 400 Northern Kentucky Catholics who made the trip to Washington.

Ms. Slaughter also said allowing the anti-abortion signs and banners into the museum amounted to a "security breach."

Meanwhile, museum staffers also complained about the breakfast, which occurred in the cafeteria before the museum opened to tourists.

That prompted Sheila Burke, the Smithsonian's undersecretary for American Museums and National Programs, to send out a memo to staff calling the breakfast "a serious judgmental error."

"I share your concern and assure you that the use of the cafeteria for a political event was inappropriate, because it was directly counter to our policy governing our facilities," she wrote.

Smithsonian spokeswoman Linda St. Thomas said Smithsonian policy forbids use of the facilities for anything political.

"That's because the Smithsonian isn't affiliated with either party or political events or issues. We also don't allow people to come in with placards and signs," she said. "When there are rallies in town, we have to ask people to leave those outside."

She said the museum thought the group was just one of the hundreds of school groups that arrange breakfasts or meals at the museum every year.

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