Minneapolis board sued for relegating free speech to empty park space

City park board agrees with Pride Festival that people handing out Bibles must be exiled to ‘no pride zone’
Monday, April 02, 2012

Attorney sound bites:  Nate Kellum  |  Jon Scruggs

MINNEAPOLIS — Alliance Defense Fund attorneys filed a federal lawsuit Friday against the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board for isolating Christians handing out Bibles to an empty and isolated “no pride zone” while the Twin Cities Pride Festival takes place in a completely separate part of a city park. The festival is an annual celebration of homosexual behavior.

“The government should not be exiling free speech, it should be protecting it,” said lead counsel Nate Kellum, one of nearly 2,100 attorneys in the ADF alliance. “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.”

ADF filed the suit on behalf of Brian Johnson after the board agreed to settle a separate legal dispute with Twin Cities Pride, the organizers of the festival, by prohibiting First Amendment activity within the portion of the park where the festival takes place. The only exception to the rule is a small, hard-to-find drop-box where materials can be placed for people to pick up on their own. Even though the event is open to the public and takes place at a public park, no one is allowed to walk through the festival to hand out Bibles.

Johnson had originally been permitted to intervene in the original lawsuit filed by Twin Cities Pride against the park board, but a federal judge, relying on the board to adequately represent Johnson’s interests, later removed him from the case.

While Johnson was in the suit, the park board argued that keeping people from distributing Bibles in the park would be unconstitutional, but it struck a deal with Twin Cities Pride once Johnson was no longer part of the suit.

“Clearly, Brian’s interests were not adequately represented at all,” said ADF Litigation Staff Counsel Jonathan Scruggs. “So our client has no choice but to file his own suit to stop this obviously flagrant violation of the First Amendment.”

ADF-allied attorney Stan Zahorsky is serving as local counsel in the case, Johnson v. Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, filed with the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota.

ADF is a legal alliance of Christian attorneys and like-minded organizations defending the right of people to freely live out their faith. Launched in 1994, ADF employs a unique combination of strategy, training, funding, and litigation to protect and preserve religious liberty, the sanctity of life, marriage, and the family.