Brian Johnson, Pride Fest Bible hander-outer, loses federal court case

Going to Pride Fest later this month? You shouldn't have to worry about Brian Johnson offering you a Bible.

Yesterday, Chief U.S. District Judge Michael Davis denied Johnson's request for an injunction that would've allowed him to again stroll around the Pride Fest and hand out his Bibles, unencumbered. The ruling means the Hayward, Wisconsin native will have to content himself with setting up shop in the festival's 'no pride zone,' which is an area where individuals and groups advocating causes that Pride deems inconsistent with its mission can hand out materials.

But Nate Kellum, chief counsel with the Center for Religious Freedom and Johnnson's lead attorney, said in a statement that other legal options are being explored.

"We are certainly disappointed in this ruling that fails to take Mr. Johnson's First Amendment freedoms into account," Kellum wrote. "Mr. Johnson should be allowed to hand out Bibles in a public area during a public festival and not be relegated to a 'no pride' zone where nobody bothers to go. Without an audience, Mr. Johnson is utterly deprived of his right to free speech."

Johnson has handed out Bibles at Pride Fest for years. That changed in 2009, when he was denied a booth, showed up anyway to get his message out, and was arrested. The next year, the Park Board approved Johnson's request to be in the park, but said he'd be arrested if he was disruptive. Last year, Pride Fest organizers and the Park Board penned Johnson in with the new 'no pride zone' policy, prompting the federal lawsuit.

In a 2010 City Pages profile, Johnson said his Christianity-promoting activities at the Pride Fest are not about confrontation. "I just want to shake someone's hand, look them in the eye, and tell them Jesus loves them," he said. He's still free to do that this year, but just won't be able to hand folks a Bible after he talks to them about Christ.

This year, the 'no prize zone' will be set up at Oak Grove Street and Lyndale Avenue, an intersection near one of the park's main entrances that should see lots of foot traffic. Judge Davis noted the zone's prime location in his ruling, debunking Kellum's notion that Johnson will be exiled to an untraveled corner of the festival.

Wrote Davis: "When the government seeks to regulate the time, place or manner of speech in a public forum and does so in a content-neutral manner, its actions are constitutional so long as they are narrowly tailored to serve a significant interest and allow alternative channels of communication."

Previous coverage:
-- Brian Johnson, Pride Fest Bible hander-outer, files federal lawsuit over "no pride zone" policy [UPDATE]
-- Pride Fest loses court fight; anti-gay evangelist allowed in Loring Park
-- Brian Johnson hands out bibles at Pride Fest with a smile

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