May 6, 2006

Derby Breakfast guests include protesters

A group of 20 protesters displaying placards stood quietly on the periphery of the Governors Derby Breakfast this morning to register their criticism of Gov. Ernie Fletcher's decision not to veto $11 million for a pharmacy school and scholarships at the Baptist-affiliated University of the Cumberlands.

Jordan Palmer of Covington, president of the Kentucky Equality Association, said the protesters were challenging Fletcher's refusal to veto the appropriation because the university had kicked out Jason Johnson, a student from Lexington, last month for disclosing on a website that he was gay.

They discriminated against homosexuals, Palmer said of the dismissal by the private Williamsburg college.

Palmer said numerous people came by to express their support for the protest, which was at the southeast corner of Capitol Avenue and Todd Street, on the edge of the Capitol grounds. Only a very few voiced any hostility, he said, and there were no incidents.

After a 45-minute hand-shaking tour of the breakfast, Fletcher told reporters he was not bothered that the protesters were on hand.

We welcome everyone to express their First Amendment rights, Fletcher said. I would hope they'd feel welcome to come in and have a good breakfast and feel more amicable.

Palmer, a registered Republican who voted for Fletcher, said he would not accept the invitation because I don't want to have breakfast and be around the governor.

Palmer said he thinks the governor violated the state constitution because he did not veto the appropriation from coal severance money for the proposed pharmacy building and scholarships for its students.

Fletcher's administration is asking Franklin Circuit Court to determine whether the appropriation violates the state Constitutions prohibition against giving state money to religious schools. An estimated 15,000 people attended the breakfast and strolled the Capitol grounds to hear entertainment groups and visit exhibits.

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