Pride Fest loses court fight; anti-gay evangelist allowed in Loring Park

Twin Cities Pride festival goers will have to put up with Christian evangelist Brian Johnson in their midst at Loring Park this weekend. U.S. District Judge John Tunheim ruled this afternoon that the Wisconsin man's free speech rights outweighed a complaint by festival organizers that they had a right to stop him from proselytizing in the park, which they leased from the city.

"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," Tunheim said in his ruling, "And then to depend on reasonable and law-abiding people to stay within proper limits."

Twin Cities Pride lawyers argued that since the group leased the park for the event, it should be able to dictate who gets to take part in the festival's activities there. The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board said that anyone should be able to walk through a public park and express themselves freely.

Johnson, of Hayward, Wis., has attended Pride Fest for years, handing out bibles and telling gay folk they need to repent. Last year, he was denied a booth, showed up anyway to get his message out, and was arrested. This year, the Park Board OK'd Johnson's request to be in the park, but said he'll be arrested if he's disruptive. After the ruling today, Pride Fest organizers said they would live with Tunheim's decision.

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