Pride Festival taking park board to court over anti-gay activist

About 200,000 people are expected to show up for the Twin Cities Pride Festival centered on Loring Park this weekend, and one of them is bible-totin' anti-gay activist Brian Johnson, of Hayward, Wis.

Should he be allowed on the grounds? The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board says yes. Pride Fest organizers say no. And they plan to file an injunction today in federal court to keep him out.

And here's the irony: Organizers are basing their argument on a 1995 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that allowed St. Patrick's Day parade organizers in Boston to exclude GLBT marchers from taking part in the procession. (Read it here.)

The court said that a private organization holding a permit to use a public street for expressive purposes could not be compelled by the government to include a group whose message is different from the organizer's.

Loring Park has been leased from the park board as the site of the Pride Festival for more than 30 years. Last year, organizers said, they paid more than $36,000 in permit fees, and food and beverage concessions to the park board for use of the 34-acre park.

"The park board's actions on behalf of Mr. Johnson are in clear violation of that US Supreme Court ruling," said William Mitchell law professor and Pride Fest co-counsel Eileen Scallen.

"Mr. Johnson is free to hurl invectives against the GLBT community and their families and distribute bibles on the public sidewalk opposite Loring Park," said Amy Slusser of Robins, Kaplan, Miller and Ciresi in a statement. "That is his First Amendment right. He just can't do so in the park while it is being leased for the Pride Festival."

Johnson's an old presence at Pride Fest. He and his wife have been passing out bibles there for more than a decade. Last year, they were told they couldn't have a booth at the festival. They came anyway and ended up behind bars for trespassing.

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