Organizers of Columbia International Day have rejected an application from Amnesty International to participate in the festival Saturday, though the human rights group was allowed to have a display booth last year.
Michelle Miller, director of community services for the Columbia Association, which sponsors the event, said Amnesty does not adhere to the event's vision of "celebrating Columbia's ethnic and cultural diversity."
She said the association was trying to streamline the list of vendors involved in the 10-year-old festival.
Phil Marcus, who represents Kings Contrivance on the Columbia Council, called the decision to exclude Amnesty "bizarre."
"Here we have an organization that stands for the same things as Columbia, and it's barred from participating," Marcus said.
"I think the decision was made that the only folks allowed to participate are those who will make happy talk. They don't want people talking about problems, and countries do have problems," he said.
Marcus said the elected council should not take up the matter and try to overrule the association staff, but he added: "I think they made the wrong decision."
Robert Steiner, a member of the Columbia/Laurel chapter of Amnesty, said in an e-mail to the Columbia Association that the booth would contain "sample letters, histories of Amnesty and accounts of political prisoners . . . whose liberation we have helped to achieve."
The 43-year-old Amnesty International is an independent group that avoids political affiliation and investigates complaints of human rights violations worldwide, according to its Web site.
In his e-mail, Steiner said that even if the local Amnesty chapter "intended to propagate unpopular political views, this should be immaterial to our fitness to participate, so long as we observe normal standards of decorum and good taste."
Steiner did not return a phone call for comment Tuesday.
Keisha Reynolds, a spokeswoman for the Columbia Association, said that in the past, groups have distributed fliers that have been "offensive" to some festival-goers, although Amnesty was not one of those organizations.
She declined to name the groups, saying she did not want to place blame.
Miller said she was unable to discuss why Amnesty was included last year and not this year because she did not have the organization's previous application before her.
"I can't comment on whether their material was offensive or not," she said.
International Day, which will be held from noon to 11 p.m., will feature more than 70 booths on the lakefront of Town Center, with art exhibits, international crafts and food from local restaurants.
Performances will include a Latin jazz ensemble, a Jewish soul band and a Korean dance.
About 7,500 people attended last year's festivities, organizers said.
"You learn more and more every year as you do this," Miller said. "We want to just ensure that the original intent of this event is not lost."
Staff writer Susan DeFord contributed to this report.