A Uniontown church that made national headlines last week when it refused to allow two women to come on an all-inclusive fishing trip they had won during a fundraiser last month because it was meant only for men has now reversed its decision and recently invited them to attend.
But it appears the damage is already done and at least one woman is no longer interested in the prize after initially being shunned merely because of her gender.
Emily Smaniotto of Smithfield told the Washington Post last week that she and another woman were picked during a raffle for the trip at a March 27 fundraiser dinner at Bethel Baptist Church, but their winning tickets were discarded because church officials told them it was for only men.
An unidentified visiting pastor told the women they wouldn’t permit them to attend the trip later this month in order to protect the church elders from potential sexual misconduct accusations, Smaniotto told the Washington Post. The story was first reported by WTAE-TV.
“Living in the days of sexual scandals and accusations many pastors including myself, take the personal position that we will not put ourselves in a position that could bring about a false accusation and thus bring a multitude of problems, hence why he personally offered them for men only,” the church wrote last week on its Facebook page that has since been deleted.
Ken Hardin, a Pittsburgh-based attorney representing the church, told the Uniontown Herald-Standard that the fishing outing “was initially ... designed to be an outing or retreat for men,” but they have since reversed that decision and offered the trip to the two women “unconditionally.” Hardin said the trip was designed to invite two of Bethel’s pastors and three members to go to an undisclosed fishing site on April 30, weather and river conditions permitting.
“There was a misunderstanding,” Hardin said, meaning this particular door prize was supposed to be for only men to enter. “Church functions sometimes are mixed, sometimes they are for men, sometimes for women. It likely needs to be communicated better, but there was never an attempt to exclude females. The church is very inclusive.”
A man who answered the phone at Bethel Baptist Church declined to identify himself or comment on the situation, directing all statements to Hardin. The church is not affiliated with Great Bethel Baptist Church, which also is in Uniontown.
Hardin said the two women were each sent letters informing them they were invited on the fishing trip, although he did not know if they had responded to church officials.
“They’re certainly welcome to go,” Hardin said.
Smaniotto, who works as a nurse and enjoys fishing and hunting in her free time, said Thursday that the church did eventually offer her an opportunity to attend the trip, but she’s not interested.
“I will say that, yes, they offered me the trip, however, I am not interested and will not be attending,” she said in a written statement to the Herald-Standard.
It was not known whether the other unidentified woman planned to attend.