Brian Johnson, Pride Fest Bible hander-outer, files federal lawsuit over "no pride zone" policy [UPDATE]

Categories: GLBT, Law
Brian Johnson and family.jpg
Brian Johnson, center, along with his son and wife at the Pride Fest in 2009.
A dispute that has been ongoing for years recently escalated: Notorious Bible hander-outer Brian Johnson filed a federal lawsuit against the Minneapolis Park Board, alleging that his constitutional rights are violated by the Twin Cities Pride Festival's "no pride zone" policy.

That policy, endorsed by the Park Board, means advocacy groups whose message isn't approved by Pride Fest organizers are confined to a small space near 15th & Lyndale in Loring Park, barred from handing out materials to the broader festival.

In court documents, Johnson's Alliance Defense Fund attorneys argue that park board rules "banning literature distribution in Loring Park... violate the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution, made applicable to the States through the Fourteenth Amendment."

Johnson, of Hayward, Wisconsin, has handed out Bibles at Pride Fest for years. In 2009, 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's 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.
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Johnson says his message isn't anti-gay, but rather pro-Jesus.

Johnson says in court documents that over his years at Pride Fest, he's "come across many individuals in the GLBT community who have expressed disdain and distrust for organized religion, and [I want] those individuals to know the real Jesus."

In previous years, when the legal battle was between Johnson and Pride Fest organizers, attorneys for Pride Fest cited a 1995 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that held private organizations with a permit to use a public street for expressive purposes cannot be compelled by the government to include a group whose message contradicts the organizer's.

Pride Executive Director Dot Belstler clarified that anybody, including Johnson, can "walk through the park and say what they want." Belstler said Johnson and other advocates of causes Pride deems inconsistent with their mission are simply banned from handing out materials outside of the "no pride zone," which this year, fittingly, will be renamed the "Minneapolis Park and Recreation area."

But Johnson's attorneys argue that the government "should not be exiling free speech, it should be protecting it."

Said Nate Kellum, an attorney with the Defense Fund:
It's ridiculous to say that the only place where people can hand out Bibles is an area where there's no one to hand Bibles to. The Constitution simply does not permit the board to relegate free speech to isolated regions where no one can receive the message. That's not free speech at all. It's pure censorship.
Johnson is seeking a judgment that the Park Board's "no pride zone" policy is unconstitutional and an affirmation that he can freely distribute literature during the festival. He's also seeking nominal damages for the violation of his constitutional rights in 2009 and 2011.

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18 comments
kiwisoup
kiwisoup

Of course it would be totally different if someone wanted to distribute material supporting the GLBT community at a Christian event...I just saw this story on KSTP and they made it out like he was some huge victim. The fact is he isn't trying to just give out bibles and spread the gospel...he's hoping to convert people away from homosexuality and is the opposite of what the Pride festival is about.

shawnzaa
shawnzaa

"Nominal damages?"  Try looking Jesus in the eye and explaining that.

Gorilla
Gorilla

Well sure it's easy to look at Johnson and say ok we don't want vile christians to be handing out bibles to our newly converted gays.. but i think it's more important to realize that Johnson is not the only group that is barred from fulling expressing their views and feelings about pride to the public at pride. For example the dyke march, why do they march every year? is it just because pride goes around choosing who they are ok with being there ( ie sold out to). or is it because pride glosses over the actual reason we celebrate pride? the social justice movement... It's not just about johnson there are many people who should be able to hand out information and pamphlets regardless of the content, you can't going around saying yes/no base on the content of their speech, especially weather it is pro or anti-pride. 

Nathaniel Finch
Nathaniel Finch

I guess I should round up a busload of old queens to go to Hayward, WI to attend Mr. Johnson's Sunday School picnic in a public park and hand out condoms. We'll see how he likes that. There's something to be said for not going where you're not wanted.

Erica
Erica

Any wonders why some in the GLBT have a disdain for organized religion? It isn't because they hate Jesus, it is his annoying followers like Brian Johnson who insist on guilting & shaming them for what they are by hiding behind their bible. It doesn't take a genius to figure that out and it shouldn't for Johnson, apparently he doesn't get it. While I reluctantly will agree that Johnson should be allowed to walk around Loring Park during Pride Fest, I think attendees should have the right to dump a snow cone on top of him if he gets too preachy.

Kirk the Conservative Jerk
Kirk the Conservative Jerk

Is this a public or private festival?  So why is a member of the public being restricted?

Where is the ACLU when it comes to his rights?

Your mom
Your mom

seriously, bible hander-outer?  i cant believe someone pays you to write...

Jordan Mogck
Jordan Mogck

I think Jesus would call this guy a "clanging cymbal," loud, annoying, and missing the point.

Joe
Joe

If all he wants to do is shake someones hand and tell them Jesus loves them, why not ditch the bibles and just do that?  Then there's no problem.

 

FellowHuman
FellowHuman

Picture up top - which one is his son and which one is his wife? BADOOM CHOCK! 

Paul
Paul

His son needs to take that Sox hat off. Giving us Sox fans a bad name wearing that...

The Easter Bunny
The Easter Bunny

Oscar Wilde said that Jesus was the only man who ever told people to act like flowers. Not bad advice if you ask me. Lighten up, people.

zerofor
zerofor

 I'd pay to see that.

bill.e.goat
bill.e.goat

 Please do this!  I'll drive the bus!

Makes sense
Makes sense

It's rented space (albeit for a nominal processing fee).  If I get a camp site at a state park, people don't have the right to come into my site.  Publicly owned property, but I'm buying private use (with rules) for a limited period of time.

Jesus H. Christensen
Jesus H. Christensen

If all he wants to do is shake someones hand and tell them Jesus loves them, why are the Pride Fest people responding to him as if he were Fred Phelps?

Joe
Joe

 Man, I need to proofread more.

Joe
Joe

Because that's not all he's doing.  If it were, there would be no problem.  For example, you can't distribute pamplets of any kind withing the boundaries of Highland Fest.  Those doing it are asked to leave.  No one is suing them.  Them's the rules.  You can stand on the corner and talk to people all day long, but you can't distribute materials.  If you want to distribute materials, you are asked to do it at least 1 block from the perimeter of the festival.  This is granted under their permit and enforced by police officers.

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