Following four years of battling with the city of Minneapolis, a Wisconsin man will be back next year at the city's annual gay pride festival in Loring Park, handing out Bibles with no restrictions. The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals issued an injunction allowing Brian Johnson, who has distributed Bibles at the event since 1998, to continue to do so while his case against the Minneapolis Park Board goes forward.
After handing out Bibles at the event with no complaints for 10 years, Johnson was told by the festival organizers in 2009 that he would not be able to continue because of his opposition to the homosexual lifestyle. That year Johnson and his family, from nearby Hayward, Wisconsin, were preparing to walk through the festival venue and offer Bibles to participants when a festival official ordered them to leave. “A police officer allegedly told Johnson that the park was ‘private property’ that day, and Johnson was arrested when they didn’t leave,” reported the Star Tribune in 2012. Charges against him were later dropped, but the prohibition against his Christian evangelistic outreach continued.
The city’s gay-themed Pride Fest has been an annual event for the past 30 years, with crowds of over 200,000 participants crowding Loring Park and surrounding areas near downtown Minneapolis for concerts, food, and exhibits of unique interest to homosexuals. Johnson said that the venue is ideal “to reach as many people as possible” with the Christian message.
In 2010, when the festival organizers again turned Johnson away, the Minneapolis Park Board appeared to side with him, ruling that his presence and activities were protected by the First Amendment. Festival officials sued the Park Board, leading U.S. District Judge John Tunheim to suggest a compromise. “In theory, Twin Cities Pride could designate ‘free-speech zones’ on the Pride Festival grounds in which anyone who wishes to distribute literature or display signage may do so,” Tunheim wrote in his ruling in the conflict.
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