Sex groups and Southern Baptists in HoJo standoff

ST. LOUIS: An Associated Press article claiming that one of the nation's largest Baptist groups is asking members to boycott Howard Johnson hotels "misrepresents

ST. LOUIS: An Associated Press article claiming that one of the nation's largest Baptist groups is asking members to boycott Howard Johnson hotels "misrepresents

the situation, according to those on both sides of the issue.

"We have not called for a boycott. It is sheer inaccuracy,

said VP of convention relations for the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) Dr. William Merrill.

However, the SBC last week canceled a block of rooms, and asked that members attending its June meeting not stay at the St. Louis Lambert International airport location of Howard Johnson since the hotel franchise is allowing an alternative sex group to hold a convention there in April.

The SBC also sent a letter to the franchise owner, as well as Howard Johnson's NJ-based corporate parent Cendant. Merrell said the action was aimed at only the specific St. Louis operation, but he does not rule out a future boycott on a larger number of outlets.

"It is inimical to our goals as a convention to encourage or support companies with the kind of moral center that the local hotel apparently has,

said Merrell.

A club called St. Louis Leather & Lace is planning a three-day event dubbed "Beat Me in St. Louis

in the hotel this month. The gathering will include demonstrations on topics such as spanking, caning, bondage, and sadomasochism.

On April 4, the AP reported the dispute as a "ban

on the hotel. Later reports picked up in outlets such as the LA Times and Calgary Herald, however, escalated that term to "boycott."

Cendant quickly responded by explaining that each location is independently owned, and that it supports anything legal.

Cendant communications director Rich Roberts said, "While we don't condone the activities planned as part of this event, we certainly respect the freedom of speech and assembly rights this group has under the Constitution.

The moral of the story is that freedom works both ways."

Roberts added, however, that the hotel chain is committed to maintaining its "family image."

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