Council rejects PETA appeal to protest

City Council rejected PETA's request Wednesday to display this statue in front of the Statehouse. / Courtesy PETA

COLUMBIA -- City Council voted 6-1 Wednesday night to reject a request by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals to place a statue in front of the Statehouse.

PETA had asked council to overrule an earlier decision by Columbia police that rejected the group's permit request to display an elephant statue wearing a sign reading "shackles, bullhooks, loneliness, all under the bigtop" for two weeks prior to the circus's visit to Colonial Life Arena Feb. 4-7.

PETA claims Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus abuses elephants. The circus denies those claims.

In an email provided by PETA, Officer Robert J. Hall wrote in December the permit was rejected because "PETA's request to place a statue on the sidewalk, unattended, for an extended period of time does not constitute a parade."

PETA claims that analysis misinterprets the city parade statute and denies them free speech. PETA claims the relevant parade statute also covers displays and does not require they be attended.

"People in Columbia have the right to know about the violent and cruel training methods Ringling uses on baby elephants, and PETA has a right to show them what's going on," says PETA Director Debbie Leahy. "By denying our permit, the city is helping the circus hide animal abuse and is suppressing free speech."

Council members agreed with police and said the parade permit PETA requested was not the proper permit. Members suggested PETA either apply for an encroachment or display their statue in one of the city's parks.

Voters were evenly mixed over the issue on the Question of the Day Wednesday. Fifty-one percent of voters said PETA should be able to protest anywhere they like as a matter of free speech. Just under half of responses said city officials have a responsibility to restrict protests to preserve public order.