First Amendment

Park officials can't restrict man's right to hand out Bibles at gay pride event, appeals court says


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Minneapolis park officials cannot restrict a man’s right to give away Bibles at a gay pride event in a public park, a federal appeals court has held.

The St. Louis-based 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, in a 2-1 ruling (PDF) Wednesday, said the park district hadn’t shown that such a restriction is narrowly tailored to serve a significant government interest, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune reports.

The court also said the man had shown that the restriction would do him irreparable harm, because a “loss of First Amendment freedoms, for even minimal periods of time, unquestionable constitutes irreparable injury,” citing the 1976 U.S. Supreme Court case Elrod v. Burns.

The ruling reversed a decision last year by U.S. District Judge Michael Davis, who held that park officials had made reasonable provisions for Brian Johnson, a self-described “professing Evangelical Christian,” to distribute Bibles at the Twin Cities Pride Festival, an annual two-day event celebrating gay pride in a downtown Minneapolis park.

The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, which oversees the park, had adopted a rule that prohibits festival attendees like Johnson from personally distributing literature in the park during the festival except from festival- or board-sponsored booths.

Johnson sought a preliminary injunction against enforcement of the rule, which Davis had denied, finding that it constitutes a content-neutral time, place and manner restriction that is narrowly tailored to serve the board’s significant interest in crowd control. But the 8th Circuit twice granted injunctions preventing enforcement of the rule pending Johnson’s appeal of Davis’ ruling.

Nathan Kellum, a lawyer with the Center for Religious Expression, who represents Johnson, said he was “thrilled” by the decision. He said it will pave the way for Johnson to hand out Bibles at the festival next year and in subsequent years.

Ann Walther, a park board attorney, declined comment, saying she hadn’t had an opportunity to discuss the decision with the board.

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