September 17, 2013 Print

Court Says Man May Distribute Bibles at Minnesota Gay-Pride Festival

by Bethany Monk

A federal court said that a Minnesota man who was banned four years ago from handing out Bibles at an annual gay pride festival should be able to distribute them.

The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said Brian Johnson may distribute the free Bibles at the Pride Fest in Loring Park next summer, while his case is being heard.

“We are pleased that the appellate court recognizes the fundamental freedoms at stake for Johnson,” said Nate Kellum, chief counsel for the Center of Religious Expression, which is representing Johnson. “In a public place during an event open to the public, Johnson has every right to share his views and contribute to the marketplace of ideas — just like everyone else.”

Johnson began handing out Bibles from a booth at the festival in 1998, and did so for more than a decade.  He was denied a booth in 2009, after organizers questioned his beliefs during the application process.

And even though he did not have a booth, Johnson attended the event wearing a T-shirt reading “free Bibles.” He was arrested for trespass.

After contacting Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), the legal group sent a letter to Minneapolis officials outlining Johnson’s constitutional rights. Kellum was with ADF at the time.

The park board agreed and said it would not stop Johnson — that his rights would be protected.

Twin Cities Pride then filed a complaint against the city. The city settled, but that settlement limited Johnson to a specific spot outside the festival.

ADF filed a separate lawsuit against the city in U.S. district court. That court, however, ruled against Johnson. ADF took that decision to the appeals court.

The appeals court action offers Johnson temporary relief so he can participate in the event in June.

“The case can continue,” Kellum told CitizenLink. “But I do think the 8th Circuit has signaled how the law is interpreted. We feel very optimistic.”

Read the complaint ADF filed in Johnson v. Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board.