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Court rejects MN activist group’s attempt to ban free speech at public park

Court says Christian man represented by ADF can intervene in lawsuit designed to silence him at ‘Pride Festival’

MINNEAPOLIS — A federal court Friday rebuffed the attempt of an activist group to silence a Christian man who wanted to distribute Bibles in a public park where the group was holding a “Pride Festival.” The group filed suit against the city of Minneapolis, asking the court to compel the city to deny the man his free speech rights, but the court refused. Instead, the court granted a motion filed by attorneys with the Alliance Defense Fund to intervene in the lawsuit to defend his rights protected by the First Amendment.

“Christians shouldn’t be discriminated against for expressing their beliefs,” said ADF Senior Counsel Nate Kellum. “Christians, like all other Americans, are protected under the First Amendment. Hopefully the organizers of the ‘Pride Festival’ will understand that the courts are meant to be used to uphold constitutional rights, not tear them down. They can’t ask the city to shut somebody up just because they don’t like that person’s message. Our client is not disruptive; he just wants to hand out Bibles to people who will accept them.”

In its order, the court relied heavily upon precedent set in several other ADF cases, some of which were litigated together with members of the nearly 1,700 attorneys in the ADF alliance.

Minneapolis police arrested Brian Johnson last year for distributing religious literature at the festival. After receiving a letter from the Alliance Defense Fund in April, the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board agreed that it “will not prevent [Johnson] from entering Loring Park…to distribute literature, display signs, and speak to members of the public” at the 2010 Pride Festival. Twin Cities Pride, which sponsors festival, then filed suit against the city and demanded a temporary restraining order to prevent Johnson from exercising his free speech rights during the event.

The U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota declined to issue the restraining order, stating, “Twin Cities Pride has not demonstrated that it is likely to succeed on the merits of its constitutional claims. Twin Cities Pride has not established that it is entitled as a permit holder to restrict Pride Festival attendees’ First Amendment rights to distribute literature or display signage. Further, the substance of Twin Cities Pride’s requested injunctive relief--which would require MPRB police to assist in banning certain forms of First Amendment-protected expression--is not narrowly tailored to serve a significant government interest…. As a festival attendee in a public forum, Johnson is entitled to speak and hand out literature, quintessential activities protected by the First Amendment, so long as he remains undisruptive.”

The court then granted the motion of ADF attorneys to allow Johnson to become an intervenor-defendant in the case, Gay-Lesbian-Bisexual-Transgender Pride/Twin Cities v. Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board.

ADF is a legal alliance of Christian attorneys and like-minded organizations defending the right of people to freely live out their faith. Launched in 1994, ADF employs a unique combination of strategy, training, funding, and litigation to protect and preserve religious liberty, the sanctity of life, marriage, and the family.