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School cancels labor chief's talk

Catholic website says UFW co-founder Dolores Huerta is not a role model because of her abortion views.

March 07, 2008|Catherine Saillant | Times Staff Writer

Activist Dolores Huerta was supposed to talk to Catholic schoolchildren Thursday about her founding role in the United Farm Workers and the importance of public service.

Instead, she was fielding calls from reporters after Our Lady of Guadalupe School in Bakersfield abruptly canceled her appearance. A parent at the school had complained that Huerta's public support for abortion rights makes her an unfit role model.

Huerta said that the school's principal, Sister Eva Lujano, left a voice mail at her Bakersfield office over the weekend, informing her that she had been disinvited. Lujano was out sick Thursday and unavailable for comment, school officials said.

But the editor of California Catholic Daily, a website that published an article about Huerta's planned appearance, took credit for scrubbing the talk. Editor Bob McPhail said that after the website's reporter called the school and a diocese superintendent to ask about the talk, Lujano agreed to cancel the planned assembly for sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders.

"Her appearance would have created the impression that the school was overlooking her prominent role in promoting abortion," he said.

Huerta, who lives in Bakersfield and runs a foundation there, said she was puzzled by the school's action. She has been unable to reach Lujano.

"I was not going to talk about reproductive rights at all," Huerta said. "I think the parents could have asked if their child could be excused."

Huerta said it was the second time in a month that a talk she had scheduled had been canceled due to protests. Last month, administrators at St. Thomas University in Texas called off an appearance citing her views on abortion.

Huerta believes she is being targeted by anti-abortion groups.

"I am the Catholic mother of 11 children," she said. "But I believe abortion is a constitutional right and an issue of privacy. I think this is a campaign against me specifically."

McPhail said a parent at the school prompted his website to make inquiries about Huerta's talk. Steve Loftus, who has a son at Our Lady of Guadalupe, sent McPhail an e-mail, voicing his frustration that Huerta was going to address students.

The school is about 90% Latino, and students had chosen Huerta as a motivational speaker for a project on influential Latinos, Huerta said. Loftus had been unsuccessful in getting the talk canceled until the Catholic website began asking questions, according to McPhail.

"The church has taken a position on high-profile people who espouse positions that are at odds with the church," McPhail said. "We pay attention . . . and when they start straying from what the church teaches out of Rome, we bring it to people's attention."

Huerta said she has made hundreds of similar presentations to colleges and schools worldwide, including at Catholic universities. There have been no protests until now, she said.

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catherine.saillant@latimes.com

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