019: Activists Attempt to Hog-tie Parents

Stella Case No. 019, Originally Published: 20 November 2002

City children often have no idea where meat comes from — farm and ranch life is just not part of their experience. In an effort to bring the country to city kids, several schools around San Francisco, Calif., sponsor field trips to the Cow Palace in San Francisco for Grand National Rodeo day, where they can see animal exhibits and, yes, a rodeo. The field trips have been going on for 20 years, and have been so successful they were recently expanded. About 9,000 students were expected to attend in 2002.

The school children “not only see a rodeo,” says Cow Palace CEO Michael Wegher, “but they see horse show events, working sheep dog trials, precision drill teams. It’s a great chance for children who maybe couldn’t afford a ticket, or perhaps their families don’t have the time, to see the Western heritage.”

But not if Peggy Hilden has anything to say about it.

The Cow Palace still exists, and is a popular site for large events: even the Beatles played there. And, here, the 1964 Republican National Convention. (Photo: U.S. Library of Congress)

Hilden has sued, asking the San Francisco Superior Court to stop schools from sending children to the Cow Palace. The suit claims that “students witness men causing pain to frightened animals,” and in the past 20 years “at least seven” animals were injured in the rodeo and either died or had to be put down — about one every three years. The suit did not allege that any schoolchildren saw any of the deaths.

Hilden’s suit, which was also joined by the groups “In Defense of Animals” and “Action for Animals,” claims that it has a legal foundation: the California Education Code, the lawsuit says, prohibits schools “from teaching and encouraging inhumane treatment of animals” and, it claims, steer wrestling, calf-roping, bull riding and other common rodeo events are all just that. The suit names school districts in Alameda, Santa Clara, San Francisco and San Mateo counties, accusing them all of violating the Education Code.

Nonsense, says Wegher of the Cow Palace. “The animals are not abused,” he says. “Some of those animals are better cared for than some people in the world.” He notes that a bull was killed in 2000, but not when school kids were in the audience. “It wasn’t intentional,” he said. “It’s like driving on the freeway — sometimes accidents happen.”

Attorney David Blatte, who drafted the suit, says the “violence” that children “may” see at the rodeo “could upset” them. He knew his suit was filed too late to stop the event this year, “So the goal,” he admits, “is to at least stop them next year.”

In the Old West, parents were responsible for their children, and for teaching them right and wrong. That’s why the schools ask them to decide whether their children should attend the rodeo, and give their permission in writing. But in the New West, a child’s upbringing is up to lawyers and nosy activists with an agenda; parents can get the heck out of the way. Peggy Hilden seems to think that these days, it takes a court — not a village — to raise a child.


  • “Suit: Rodeo Bad for Kids”, San Jose Mercury News, 23 October 2002

Case Status

I only found one update on the case. Action for Animals had filed the suit against school districts in Alameda, Contra Costa, and San Francisco counties. The San Francisco-based judge dismissed the case against every school district except San Francisco, because that is where Hilden lived — she didn’t have “standing” to represent parents elsewhere. “If we win, any taxpayer in any city can sue and stop the district from going to the rodeo,” said AfA’s attorney, David Blatte. “We could even do that now, but we want to see what the law says before we financially burden any other school districts.” I haven’t heard of any other such cases flooding the Bay Area’s courts, so I’d guess they lost.


In this issue I noted in the comments section that lawsuits have led to countless “warnings” on products (“‘Warning: Contents Hot’ (and its cousin on microwave dinners, ‘Contents hot after heating’). Duh.” And I love the asterisk at the end of the next sentence: “The sad part is, such idiotic ‘warnings’ apparently help defend against lawsuits*.” And then concluded, “The way things are going, there will be warnings on everything. How much will it cost to print on every piece of paper, ‘WARNING: May Cause Paper Cuts’? And once warnings are everywhere, will anyone see them anymore? (DANGER: Read all warnings before proceeding!)”

That asterisk led readers to my own “warning” at the bottom of the issue:

*DANGER! Reading “The True Stella Awards” may cause, without limitation, anger, disgust with the legal system and/or other negative emotions which may endanger your physical and emotional health; any resulting laughter, amusement or other entertainment may not be sufficient to mitigate any such negative impacts, and thus you must read “The True Stella Awards” at your own exclusive risk.

My 2020 Thoughts on the Case

My favorite part of this is the update that Hildon’s case was thrown out in Alameda and Contra Costa counties because she didn’t live there, which really sustains my objection that she is trying to push her agenda on other parents where she has no standing. Who should have the right to say whether kids go to a rodeo? Their parents. And who had to give permission for them to go, or they couldn’t? Their parents. So the issue really is what, now? Oh yeah: that some other person thinks she should be able to say what their kids should see, using the courts to back up her agenda.

- - -

Email Subscriptions

No new cases are being published, so please don’t try to submit cases for inclusion on this site.

While there are no new cases coming, all of the previously published cases are returning to this site over time. You can subscribe to notifications as those classic cases are posted, scheduled for Mondays and Thursdays. Click here for a Stella Awards subscribe form.

Meanwhile, my flagship email publication This is True does continue to come out with new stories every week. It’s “Thought-Provoking Entertainment” like Stella, but uses weird-but-true news items as its vehicle for social commentary. It is the oldest entertainment newsletter online — weekly since 1994. Click here for a This is True subscribe form.

2 Comments on “019: Activists Attempt to Hog-tie Parents

  1. It is rare when there is a clear choice between black and white, wrong and right. This case seems to be clearly in the gray area, what one person feels is harmful to a child another feels it is not. I think that you summarized it correctly, the case is not about what is harmful to children, but about ‘intellectual elites’, or at least those who believe that they are intellectually superior to others, attempting to impose their world view upon the rest of society through the courts. Unfortunately the only thing that has changed since 2002 is that it has has become more pronounced and more frequent as judges have sided with the self proclaimed ‘intellectual saviors of society’.

  2. As much as it bothers me to have people “nanny” me, it also puzzles me that there are people who just don’t know what to do without a nanny.


Leave a Comment