Twin Cities Pride fest, Park Board argue over free speech rights again

Here we go again.

Just like last year, the city has a battle brewing on its hands over free speech rights in Loring Park during the Twin Cities Pride festival.

Organizers want an exclusive use permit for the park that would entitle them to limit opposition groups to setting up shop in an official protest space.

The Park Board staff says Loring Park is a public forum where all free speech rights must be respected, and they say Pride Fest should only be granted its traditional non-exclusive permit.

The Downtown Journal reports the conflict will be aired in public at an April 20 commissioners' meeting.

Last year, festival organizers lost their legal battle to prevent Wisconsin preacher Brian Johnson from strolling the park and handing out bibles. His message ran contrary to that of the festival's celebration of inclusiveness, organizers said, and he would be disruptive.

Preacher Brian Johnson wasn't welcomed by everyone at Pride fest.
Preacher Brian Johnson wasn't welcomed by everyone at Pride fest.

We followed him around the day he showed up, and the biggest disruption he appeared to cause was the scrum of TV cameras that followed his every move for about 10 minutes. Once the cameras went away, he and his family wandered around in "Free Bibles" t-shirts and did some low-key, Jesus-is-your-friend talk with folks who gave him the time of day.

The real disruption came from a group of evangelical preachers who set up shop alongside one of the paths in the park and preached hellfire and brimstone to crowds of gay folk walking by as counter-demonstrators and Minneapolis cops silently stood nearby, keeping an eye out for trouble that never came.

If Pride Fest gets its exclusive permit, groups like those evangelicals we saw would be limited to a protest pen at the dog park. Preachers like Johnson would still be allowed to walk around as long as they didn't cause a ruckus.

The festival this year is scheduled for June 25-26.

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