Madison’s Brat Fest cancels speaking invitation to anti-abortion activist

After an objection from at least one local political leader, Metcalfe’s Market president Tim Metcalfe has decided not to include a speaker he invited to appear at The World’s Largest Brat Fest, a charity event his company sponsors annually.

Madison Ald. Lisa Subeck had written an open letter to Metcalfe rejecting an offer to participate in the 34-year-old Memorial Weekend event as a “celebrity cashier” because of a scheduled speech by Bob Lenz, a motivational Christian speaker who is deeply involved in Save the Storks, an anti-abortion movement. The organization sponsors “Stork Buses,” vehicles which park in front of abortion clinics offering ultrasound exams in an effort to divert women from terminating pregnancies.

Although Lenz told the Wisconsin State Journal that his talk would not focus on abortion, instead touching on general Christian themes, Subeck, the head of progressive group United Wisconsin and one of two Democrats running for an open state Assembly district on Madison’s west side, said the two could not be separated given Lenz’s prominent role in anti-abortion activism.

In an interview on Monday, Subeck, a former executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Wisconsin, said that Lenz’s promise not to address abortion was irrelevant. Giving him a prime speaking slot at the event would still serve as a tacit endorsement of his activities with the Stork Bus, she said.

She compared it to inviting prominent anti-gay activist Fred Phelps of the Westboro Baptist Church to speak on a topic besides homosexuality.

“Bob Lenz not only speaks out about his personal beliefs, but as a leader in the Save the Storks bus tour program, he participates directly in the interference of access to women’s health care,” she wrote in the letter.

In a statement on his Facebook page Monday, Metcalfe said that he was inspired to invite Lenz due to the speaker’s involvement in suicide prevention awareness, but decided that his anti-abortion activities would bring unnecessary controversy to what he wanted to be an apolitical event.

“It was brought to my attention that the speaker’s affiliation caused some concerns and as a result, I respectfully rescinded the offer,” he wrote. “Our goal is to make Brat Fest a great experience for all who attend.”

The inclusion of religious-themed performances this year is a change for the traditionally secular Brat Fest, a development that Metcalfe told the State Journal was a result of a religious awakening he experienced while attending a Christian music festival last year.

“I appreciate that Tim listened and responded by doing the right thing,” said Subeck. “I now look forward to taking part in this year’s Brat Fest.”

Lenz did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

This is not the first time that Brat Fest has become the center of a political debate. In past years, progressive activists, citing large contributions to Gov. Scott Walker from executives of Johnsonville Brats, which provides the event’s sausages, have organized alternative brat festivals.