Twin Cities Pride doesn't want Brian Johnson, his family and especially his message at their Pride Festival this weekend.
Johnson and his family hand out Bibles and preach that homosexuality is immoral—a message obviously upsetting to all of us open-minded, correct-thinking, ahem... First Amendment lovers. Can't have any of that messy freedom of speech stuff, now can we?
In actuality, the issue is not so much Johnson's opinion--or his right to espouse it. At issue is, when and where that opinion can be expressed.
A little more about this fight, after the jump.
Johnson and his family have in the past, rented a booth at Twin Cities Pride. Last year, Pride organizers decided not to rent to Johnson. He and his family continued to proselytize anyway and were arrested for their trouble--trespassing and disturbing the peace. This year, not only did Pride refuse to rent Johnson a booth, they sought a federal injunction as well, seeking to prevent him from distributing anti-gay literature or evangelizing within the boundaries of Loring Park where Pride Festival takes place. The Johnson family lobbied the Minneapolis Parks and Recreation Board for access to the festival, which draws up to 300,000 LGBT participants each year.
Pressure by Johnson and his attorneys from (James Dobson affiliated) Alliance Defense Fund (ADF) led parks and recreation officials to decide anti-gay activists should be allowed access to the festival. Minneapolis Parks Board chair, John Irwin cited First Amendment protections even though he disagreed with the Johnson's point of view saying, "I happen to wholeheartedly agree with the message of Twin Cities Pride. I'm gay myself. But I also believe in every person's right to free speech and expression," he said. "Asking the Minneapolis Park Board to exclude someone from a public space because they have a differing view is a dangerous precedent."
Pride organizers countered with the federal injunction, on grounds that they pay many thousands of dollars to rent the festival site and permit the event, thus making it privately controlled. In an ironic twist, attorneys for Twin Cities Pride cited 1995 Supreme Court case law from Hurley v. Irish-American Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Group of Boston to argue for private control of Pride Festival messaging. In that Boston case, parade organizers legally prohibited a LGB group from participation in the annual Boston parade. The courts ruled that a valid permit holder for a function has the right to deny access to individuals or groups whose message does not conform to that intended by the event's organizers.
Late Friday, Twin Cities Pride lost their bid for the injunction. Federal Judge John Tunheim stating in his ruling, (emphasis mine) "The court's task here is to balance these competing interests to the greatest extent possible—to enable all speakers to exercise their constitutional rights, and then to depend on reasonable and law-abiding people to stay within proper limits."
Minneapolis Parks and Recreation has found themselves in the awkward position of defending Johnson in Federal court, yet seemed pleased by the ruling. "There are no winners or losers in this case," commented John Irwin, Minneapolis PRB chairperson. "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."