Local News

Festival offers music, food, fun, no religion

Posted April 3, 2008 4:56 p.m. EDT
Updated April 24, 2009 9:18 a.m. EDT

— Thousands of people are expected to enjoy music, food and other entertainment at the annual Dogwood Festival this month. One thing they won't get at the event: religion.

Festival organizers have barred churches and other religious groups from setting up informational booths at the April 25-27 event.

"We were told churches are not allowed to participate as vendors in the Dogwood Festival," said Michael Fletcher, pastor of Manna Church.

Fletcher said his congregation has rented booths at past festivals to hand out things like free bottles of water and frozen candy bars.

"(We wanted) to show the love of Jesus in a practical way. No payment, it's just to bless you," he said.

Carrie King, executive director of the Dogwood Festival, said the policy prohibiting churches was created eight years ago. But organizers are strictly enforcing it this year after receiving complaints from people offended by churches and political candidates advertising their causes.

Organizers say churches can apply as food vendors, but can't distribute any literature from the food booths.

"There are guidelines each vendor has to abide by," King said.

Vendors who paid for booths at the festival also didn't like churches handing out free food, she said.

"That was deemed as a direct conflict with the other vendors who had paid a substantial amount of money to be there," she said.

Organizers rejected 70 applications for booths at the festival, including Manna Church and Providence Presbyterian Church. The event will feature 152 vendors.

Other large festivals in the area allow religious groups to operate booths.

Five such groups are signed up to participate in this year's Lazy Daze festival in Cary. All five are selling food and are allowed to put religious information at their booths.

Artsplosure will allow religious groups to run food or drink booths as long as they're not passing out literature. The organizers of the Raleigh event also have the power to remove anyone who enters the festival with the intent of distributing information that's not in the spirit of the arts.

King said the Dogwood Festival board of directors would meet in May to work on a new policy for leasing booths to churches. Any changes would take effect next year.

Fletcher said that doesn't right the wrong he feels is taking place at this year's festival.

"Churches are part of the community, and it's discrimination to not allow churches to be a part of our city's greatest festival," he said.