ST. PAUL — The 8th Circuit Court of Appeals has affirmed the right of a Minnesota Christian to distribute Bibles at Twin Cities Pride Fest, a celebration of homosexuality held each year in Minneapolis.
In 2012, the Minnesota Park and Recreation Board (MPRB) had issued a regulation prohibiting literature distribution during the free festival, which is held in Loral Park, a public area that is open for all to utilize. The rule thus barred Brian Johnson, an area Christian who sought to evangelize at the event, from distributing Bibles to attendees as he had planned.
According to the new restrictions, Johnson had the choice of either giving away Bibles outside of the festival in a free speech zone, or leave the copies at a “material drop” area within the festival for attendees to take if desired.
Frustrated with the prohibition, Johnson contacted the Center for Religious Expression (CRE) to request assistance. Attorney Nate Kellum then filed for a federal injunction, seeking an exemption for Johnson during the 2012 and 2013 events. Kellum had argued in legal briefs that the area designated for literature distribution outside of the festival was largely vacant and unfrequented, and that the material drop area was unmarked and thus unknown to attendees.
The injunction had to be appealed to the 8th Circuit as U.S. District Court Judge Michael Davis ruled that the MPRB provided “ample alternative channels of communication” for Johnson to share his message. He noted that Johnson could still hold signs at the festival and talk to attendees, as well as advise them that he had left Bibles in the material drop area.
Last year, the 8th Circuit agreed with Kellum and reversed Davis’ denial of the preliminary injunction, allowing Johnson to attend the 2012 and 2013 Pride Fest events. On Wednesday, after fully reviewing the matter on its merits, the court remanded the case back to Davis for a final ruling in accordance with its findings, advising that it believed the MPRB rules would have caused Johnson “a loss of First Amendment freedoms” if the injunction was not granted.
In a 2-1 decision, Judges Steven Colloton and Roger Wollman, appointed by George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan respectively, rejected the claims of the MPRB, which asserted that the restriction served to prevent congestion and ensure safety at the festival. Colloton and Wollman opined that the rule served no legitimate government interest, but rather was an unconstitutional infringement upon Johnson’s freedom of religious expression.
The dissenting justice, Kermit Bye, appointed by Bill Clinton, stated that he understood the board’s desire to “maintain an orderly flow of people,” and found the regulation to be reasonable.
“We are pleased that the appellate court recognizes the fundamental freedoms at stake for Johnson,” Kellum commented in a news release announcing the victory. “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.”
Kellum said the court’s decision will now clear the way for Johnson to freely distribute Bibles at future Twin Cities Pride events.