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 Claire Chretien / LifeSiteNews

RIVERHEAD, New York, March 20, 2017 (LifeSiteNews) – A New York Catholic Church cancelled a “Unity Town Hall” scheduled to take place in its school cafeteria after local pro-life activists objected to representatives from Planned Parenthood speaking.

Non-demoninational Pastor Joni Lupis, president and director of the March 4 Life New York, told LifeSiteNews she discovered the event when she saw “ladies going around Riverhead town giving out these fliers” about it. 

“The ladies were wearing pins that said, ‘I love Planned Parenthood,’” said Lupis. “The fliers didn’t really say what was happening at the meeting; the fliers said that they were having a grassroots meeting.”

Lupis looked it up and learned that St. John the Evangelist parish was scheduled to host a “Grassroots Town Hall for Unity” organized by “social justice advocates” on Sunday, March 26.

The purpose of this meeting, according to local media, was “to serve as an initial gathering of members of vulnerable or targeted groups, activists and people who want to do something about the problems they see but don’t know how to help.” It was to feature Leslie Wright and Ashley Barry of Planned Parenthood, America's largest abortion provider. It was also scheduled to host a speaker from the “LGBTQ community” and the Long Island Transgender Advocacy Coalition. 

According to the local media report, “Southold Town Anti-Bias Task Force member Dr. Carolyn Peabody and retired professor and author Dinnie Gordon” organized the event. The goal of the Southold Town Anti-Bias Task Force is “to plan and implement programs to promote intergroup harmony, reduce prejudice, foster respect and tolerance, and … advise the Town Board on the appropriate responses to bias-related issues and incidents whenever necessary.”

Originially, pro-lifers planned to protest the meeting, Lupis said. Then, they planned to attend it to make their voices heard. But eventually so many people complained to the church that “they cancelled the whole meeting.”

Lupis said she pointed out to the pastor that the women recruiting for the event were explicitly promoting Planned Parenthood, not immigration or other issues, with their pins. 

“Sister Margaret Smyth, who runs North Fork Spanish Apostolate, which is a separate agency that leases space from us, in conjunction with” a community action group “wanted to have an open … community meeting,” Father Larry Duncklee, pastor of St. John the Evangelist, told LifeSiteNews.

“The agenda was supposed to be … on issues of immigration, health concerns, bias and bullying for the community,” said Duncklee. “And unfortunately, the other coordinator from the … community group picked some speakers that were not in compliance with the spirit of what we were trying to do.”

“Once we found that out, we disinvited those people and because of that, we cancelled the meeting itself,” he said. “I did not know that Planned Parenthood was going to be given a platform to speak. And I was very happy that people in the community informed me of that.”

Duncklee said that when outside groups lease space from the Church, they must comply with certain restrictions. St. John the Evangelist leases space to the government program HeadStart, he said, and HeadStart is allowed to remove crosses from the rooms it uses. But it can't “put things up that are contrary to our faith teachings.”

The town hall's Facebook event continues to list the event as occurring Sunday at St. John the Evangelist. According to the Facebook event page, it is hosted by the North Fork Unity Collaborative. 

The North Fork Unity Collaborative aims “to create authentic and actionable commitment to our collective dignity, safety and humanity regardless of race, income, religion, immigration status, gender, sexual orientation political or organizational affiliation,” its Facebook page says. It directs interested individuals to email Planned Parenthood Hudson Peconic and the New York Civil Liberties Union for more information.

The Catholic Diocese of Rockville Centre did not respond to an inquiry from LifeSiteNews. 

Lupis said she is excited about the upcoming New York March 4 Life, which is April 29 in Brookhaven. She said this incident highlights the importance of pro-life involvement in the community.