Brian Johnson, the evangelical whose preaching has sparked a tense free-speech dispute between the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board (MPRB) and organizers of the Twin Cities Pride Festival, will be allowed in Loring Park this weekend. What’s more, he’ll also be allowed to hand out Bibles and to preach.
A federal judge ruled this afternoon that Johnson has a constitutional right to both attend the festival and to speak and hand out literature, as long as he is not disruptive. Judge John Tunheim described these as “quintessential activities protected by the First Amendment.”
Lawyers for Twin Cities Pride were seeking a temporary restraining order to keep Johnson from distributing materials in the park. Attorneys argued that, while Johnson is welcome to attend the festival, he should not be allowed to hand out Bibles without a vendor permit. Johnson had manned a booth at the festival for 10 years before organizers denied his vendor application last year.
Jim Kelley, last year’s festival manager, alleged that Johnson had been less than truthful on his application. Johnson showed up anyway, caused a commotion and was arrested for trespassing. Charges were later dropped.
Faced with a request from Johnson’s lawyers, the MPRB had decided to “err on the side of free-speech,” according to President John Erwin, and allow Johnson to preach in Loring Park.
In a statement released an hour after Tunheim’s decision, Erwin wrote:
“There are no winners or losers in this case. This case was about clarifying an individual’s first amendment rights in a public park. Mr. Brian Johnson, or anyone, has the right to express themselves in Loring Park during Twin Cities Pride Festival. But no one has the right to disturb the peace or harass attendees. The Minneapolis Park Police will respond accordingly if anyone breaks the law. The Minneapolis Park Board looks forward to working with the Twin Cities Pride organization to make this a successful festiv1al for all, and celebrate gay pride with the GLBT community.”
Pride Festival organizers say they will abide by the ruling.