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Judge bans Wisconsin man from distributing Bibles inside Twin Cities pride festival

Wednesday, June 13, 2012
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MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. — A federal judge ruled this week that an anti-gay activist could not distribute Bibles at Twin Cities Pride this month.

Chief U.S. District Court Judge Michael Davis issued a 41-page ruling Monday, prohibiting Brian Johnson of Hayward, Wisc., access to the Pride event, and said he will have to confine himself to a booth just outside of the event.

Brian Johnson

Johnson had sought an injunction to force the city’s parks board to allow him unrestricted access to festival grounds at Minneapolis’ Loring Park.

In his ruling, Davis said that Johnson’s constitutional challenge is not likely to succeed, adding that Johnson must confine himself to a booth just outside the event locale.

Nate Kellum, chief counsel with the Center for Religious Expression and Johnson’s lead attorney, issued a statement Monday indicating that other legal options are being explored, reported the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.

“We are certainly disappointed in this ruling that fails to take Mr. Johnson’s First Amendment freedoms into account,” Kellum wrote. “Mr. Johnson should be allowed to hand out Bibles in a public area during a public festival and not be relegated to a ‘no pride’ zone where nobody bothers to go. Without an audience, Mr. Johnson is utterly deprived of his right to free speech.”

Johnson, an evangelical Christian and taxidermist, said in his lawsuit that he has distributed Bibles at the annual event since 1995 and that he had no problems until 2009, when the organization refused to rent him a booth after an exchange about his views on homosexuality.

Johnson and his family planned to walk through the 2009 event distributing Bibles, but festival officials told them they weren’t welcome, his suit says.

Festival planners sued the Park Board in 2010, seeking an injunction to prevent Johnson’s return to the festival, but lost when another federal judge ruled that restricting the content of Johnson’s speech would violate his rights under the First Amendment.

Last year, Twin Cities Pride and the Park Board reached a settlement agreement stipulating that the board would set up booths in the park but outside of the festival area for people excluded by the festival planners, requiring that all literature distributed inside the festival would be done from booths approved by Pride organizers.

David ruled on Monday that Johnson’s booth could be adjacent to the picnic and entertainment area, and was close enough to one of the park’s main entrances.

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