Judge: anti-gay activist can’t be kept out of pride event

Timothy Kincaid

June 25th, 2010

In a truly mind-boggling decision, a judge in Minneapolis has decided that an anti-gay activist must be allowed to distribute anti-gay literature within the park which the gay pride event has rented from the city.

A federal judge ruled Friday that a restraining order would violate Johnson’s First Amendment rights.

The city’s park system fought Pride Fest in court.

Since the Fest is held in a public park, attorneys for the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board argued on Johnson’s behalf, although they insisted they were merely trying to clarify the rules and were not advocating one viewpoint over another.

To recap, just so we know the law,

  • The Boston St. Patrick’s Day Parade, which marches down public streets, has the right to exclude gay people from marching so as to protect its “message”
  • The Boy Scouts of America, who recruit in public schools, have the right to exclude gay people because they have a freedom of assembly right
  • The Boy Scouts have the right to insist that their discriminatory policies can’t be used to deny them taxpayer-funded free rent
  • BUT

  • The Twin Cities Pride Fest doesn’t have the right to deny entry into a park that they rented to someone who is there for the sole purpose of working against their message.

Yeah. And we’re the ones who they say want “special rights.”

UPDATE: WCCO provides additional information:

In a footnote, Tunheim proposed a compromise in which Twin Cities Pride could designate content-neutral “free speech zones” where anyone could distribute literature or display signs.

Pragmatically, they may be smart to allow such a zone. It would minimize disturbances and confrontations and would allow those who are there to seek a space where they can feel safe and free from hostility can avoid the area.

Johnson, of course, doesn’t want to be restricted in any way.

Stefano A

June 25th, 2010

While it doesn’t seem “fair” somehow, in this instance I just don’t find myself being able to get worked up to feel “outrage”.

While I may not be able to march in the Boston parade (just as Twin City Pride had the right to deny the vendors’ license which wasn’t disputed), I can mingle through the Boston parade crowd and distribute fliers denouncing the fact that I can’t participate in the parade itself.

And while I can’t join the Boy Scouts, I can certainly stand outside their place of meeting and protest or distribute fliers denouncing their position.

As for the rent situation, however, that I still can’t wrap my mind around as a valid decision on the part of the jury.


June 25th, 2010

I’m volunteering at the TC Pride this weekend – and I applaud this ruling. The right to free speech trumps a persons right to feel comfortable in a public park.

And your examples don’t hold water. Pride has the right to exclude parties from participating in their event and they do (its been a frequent complaint about the organizers of this event). It doesn’t have the right to shut down a lawful protest.

I’m personally going to enjoy TC Pride this weekend and I’m grown up enough to ignore a few wingnuts holding up signs or passing out leaflets that have opinions I may not agree with – but they have the right to express. Kincaid – you should be to.


June 25th, 2010

I agree that the boy scout and St. Patrick’s day rulings are bullshit, but that doesn’t mean that we have to treat the homophobes the same way they treat us. Let’s not be hypocrites here.

Richard Rosendall

June 25th, 2010

Timothy, the decision here is a clear violation of the SCOTUS Hurley decision (involving the Boston St. Pat’s parade), as your comments suggest. John, you are wrong. Others’ right to exclude us from their expressive events is the same right that entitles us to control our own expressive events. (I thought Hurley was correct when Justice Souter first wrote it, even though it went against my interests, because I understand and treasure the First Amendment, not just for people with whom I agree.) This judge is blatantly wrong, and the organizers in Minneapolis should seek a stay immediately.

Stefano A

June 25th, 2010

Actually, it would only be a violation if the Wisconsin judge had ordered that the evangelist must be allowed to participate in the vent; ie, that TC Pride must issue him a vendors’ license. But that was not the decision nor was it what was being decided.

A more accurate analogy would be if Boston Pride argued that a gay person could not attend the parade event and tell others how wrong they think they are for not allowing gays to be official participants.

These are two different issues.

If the evangelist were asking the judge to allow him to set up a distribution point without having to have a vendors’ permit, I think the judge’s ruling would have been very different.

Timothy Kincaid

June 25th, 2010


TC Pride has already told Johnson he could attend.

Amy Slusser, an attorney for Twin Cities Pride, told the judge that “Mr. Johnson, his friends and the entire world are welcome to attend” the festival, but not to hand out pamphlets, books or hold signs.

They also don’t let vendors pass out samples, or companies pass out advertisements, or anyone else pass out anything or carry any signs.

Johnson is being given preferential treatment over all of the gay attendees. The judge’s order say, in effect, that the only people who can come to TC Pride and carry signs or pass out literature are anti-gay activists.

Ben in Oakland

June 25th, 2010

Personally,I think the judge’s decision is a bad one– actually, horrible– but I also see it as an opportunity.

See if you can find a bunch of local burly boys to cordon him off. It would of course be done for his security and protection. Best if they are in thongs.

Large signs surrounding him peacefully every place he goes: St Paul “They professeth to be wise” “AntiGay=Special rights for bigots” “Relgious bigotry– not pretty in any color” “This man is a fool”. “this johnson is a dick”

Photo opportunities galore.

Comedy riffs on him through a louspeaker, ridiculing him.

The opportunities are boundless to turn this into theater and into comedy.

Or at the very least– JUST IGNORE THIS ASSHOLE– as pointedly as you can.

Stefano A

June 25th, 2010

They also don’t let vendors pass out samples, or companies pass out advertisements, or anyone else pass out anything or carry any signs.

I don’t see the rational of prohibiting vendors from passing out things as that seems to defeat the purpose of being a vendor . . . eg, that would seem to prevent HIV/AIDS outreach from distributing info, or GSA’s from presenting literature about their organizations, or gay affirming churches from handing info about their churches to invite people to attend. What would be the incentive for a vendor to attend if they couldn’t provide information? That would seem to limit vendors to only those selling edible goods that would be consumed on the spot and not be able to be taken away.

But that aside, I wasn’t aware that TC Pride prohibited everyone from passing out anything or attendees from, for instance, carrying around their own gay Pride flags.

That’s a detail I was missing and does change the perspective.

That wasn’t something I was aware of from any of the news reports I’d read. Although I was aware that TC Pride wasn’t opposed to him attending but didn’t want him to distribute anything.

Ben in Oakland

June 25th, 2010

Got me some more ideas.

Politely take his bibles, have a depository for them, and donate them to a local MCC.

Politely take his literature, have large labelled containers saying: recycle hate into love.

More signs. “All Anti-gay. Haggard. Rekers. etcetcetc.” Followed by: “Johnson.”

Ministers in their clerical garb with signs: “This is not Christianity”

Have a kissing booth right next to him.

Timothy Kincaid

June 25th, 2010


Let me clarify. Vendors cannot wander about passing out literature. They can stay in their booth and do so to those who walk up to them.

Stefano A

June 25th, 2010


Ok. That does change things.


June 25th, 2010

A better idea would be to take his bibles, deface them and donate them to a recycling plant. People shouldn’t be brainwashed with evil bronze age rubbish in the 21st century. I hope he is ridiculed and shouted down throughout his stay in the park – an opportunity for you all to give him a piece of your mind, as all serious followers of the supposed jesus of nazareth were allegedly warned to expect in matthew 10:22.

Lindoro Almaviva

June 25th, 2010

I say ask for the money back, either that or have a pride celebration the next time there is a religious celebration in the park. If the religious people sue to keep gay people from attending and passing out lit, then they have the precedent to sue for violation of their civil rights, give the fact that when it was THEM trying to keep their party private they were not allowed.

Stuff like this makes my blood boil.

Stefano A

June 25th, 2010

The judge’s order say, in effect, that the only people who can come to TC Pride and carry signs or pass out literature are anti-gay activists.

Rather, wouldn’t the judges ruling open it up for everyone? That is, he effectively stripped TC Pride of the ability, as Richard said, to control their own event.

In which case, I agree, this judge got it totally wrong with regard to event organizers being able to establish codes of conduct for attendees, once they enter the event. (As opposed to the evangelist being able to protest or distribute handouts outside the event grounds.)

Stefano A

June 25th, 2010

I have what may seem like a dumb question, but who originally initiated the court action?

What I’m wondering is, why did TC Pride seek an injunction in the first place?

If they had a policy that no one could distribute literature, why didn’t they just let him attend and then 86 him the same as they would have anyone else not abiding by the event policies? The same way you’d escort out an unruly drunk.

Wouldn’t that have been an easier argument to make then in court if the evangelist had then sued or something? That is, wouldn’t that have created less of an impression that he was being personally singled out?

Although I guess that’s just simplistic thinking as with this judge the outcome would probably still have been the same.


June 25th, 2010

I think they tried that last year. I don’t remember the details but it was in HIS favor and not theirs.

Stefano A

June 25th, 2010

That figures.

Neil D

June 25th, 2010

We can shout them down. Have no fear!

I’ll bet he’s a Republican.

Rick Brentlinger

June 25th, 2010

I believe the judge made the right decision. I encountered a similar situation in Milton, FL while passing out gospel tracts at a downtown Arts Festival, held on streets closed off for the event.

The organizer of the festival told me if I wanted to pass out tracts, I should rent a booth.

I explained that in public spaces, our First Amendment right of free speech allows us to pass out gospel tracts without renting a booth. That’s why they call it free speech.

When she persisted in telling me I couldn’t pass out tracts, I told her: “Let’s find a law enforcement officer and see what he says about this.”

At that point she told me, “Oh, go ahead and pass them out” and walked away.


June 25th, 2010

I’m not 100% sure but… here’s my thinking:

The St. Pat’s Parade and BSA related to participation.

BSA is obvious — it’s a private group, they get to determine membership.

St. Pat’s is more nuanced — there are two components here: the parade itself and the public audience. The parade retains the right to determine who may march within that parade, but spectating is open to the public. The St. Pats decision does not prevent gays from attending the Parade, but from marching.

And I think that’s what flavors this ruling: the Pride event is open to the public, and as such, they do not have the right to exclude specific individuals unless they intend to control the attendance / spectators by offering tickets, etc. — which is not what we’re talking about here.

This person’s right to be present was upheld — not his right to march in a parade, etc., and as such it’s comparable to a ruling that would prevent the St. Pats parade from barring homosexuals in the audience (who, for example, might be passing out leaflets or wearing t-shirts).


June 26th, 2010

Regardless of whether or not Pride Fest rented the park, it’s still a public event at a public place. Jamison v. Texas (http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/scripts/getcase.pl?navby=CASE&court=US&vol=318&page=413)guarantees the right of individuals to distribute non-commercial literature in those areas. Those at the event are free to use their freedom of speech in creative ways to counteract or deal with Johnson. Honestly, I think we’re at a point where Johnson would do more good than harm to our cause.


June 26th, 2010

Lindoro Almaviva,

Great Idea!

IF a City/County/municipality allows in the first place for the rental of a park, picnic area, etc. for the use of a person or group, meaning that the group has paid for the use, then that group should have the exclusive use of that area, uninhibited and uninvaided by others.

If the City Collects Funds for that purpose, then the the product or service should be delivered. If not, then ask for the money back. What is the Citys policy after all? Surely this was looked at. The city was involved in the process here.

This may be a bit trite, or too late, but Pride should now “visit” with any and all other renters in the same fashion. I’m sure that when Pride Members want to attend the (hypothetical) Washington Family Reunion this August in the same fashion, that the situation will be all different then…


June 26th, 2010

More simply asked:

What is a group paying for when renting a public space?

Why not just let all of the “individuals” show up, and let the City sue SOMEONE for Whatever?

Jonathan Oz

June 26th, 2010

I still believe the best sort of response is the sort implemented at Long Beach, CA Pride in response to the Westboro idiots showing up , and discussed in Jim Burroughs’ article on Box Turtle Bulletin of May 15 of this year.

Jason D

June 26th, 2010

So I guess the next time Phelps wants to protest “Corpus Cristi” or “The Laramie Project” they are allowed to hold their protest onstage during the production? Or at the very least in the front row of the house, right?


June 26th, 2010

I say allow him to say anything he wants about gays, but they should have other people near him to respond: an atheist/freethinking group, or some pro-gays that would ridicule and refute everything that guy claims. Let’s see if he wants to keep doing that, or at best, change his mind.


June 26th, 2010

Here’s suggested theme for TC Pride:

“There’s an anti-gay queen in my closet”

haggard, rekers… the list is endless. with so many anti-gay queens to impersonate, who needs elvis?

alternatively, have a bunch of anti-gay closet queen impersonators with their own banners (like “Nobody Knows I’m Gay” and “Please Out Me!”) trailing behind the bears.

…just a suggestion.

(the real) andrew

June 28th, 2010

i don’t know what to make of this because i don’t know what the relevant laws are in regards to controlling access to the park once rented. my gut says that the pride event should be treated the same as any other event. in other words:

if other groups which rent the park have the right to bar protesters or those “against message” from being present, then the gay group should, as well.

if other groups do NOT have the right to exclude protesters, then the gay group shouldn’t, either.

but i’ve never understood definitively what the law actually is.

as others have pointed out, though, the situation with the Boy scouts and parade, while highly irksome, are not very good analogies for this.

Jason D

June 28th, 2010

apparently someone else decided to help them out with their screechy protest.

Another loss for the 1st Amendment Rights of gay people.

John in MN

June 28th, 2010

I agree with free speech rights, but in light of this situation let me ask the following: should white supremcists be allowed to promote their ideas at black civil rights celebrations?

No matter how you slice it, hate is hate. It shouldn’t be tolerated anywhere.

Jason D

June 28th, 2010

John, I look at it more from a Free Speech perspective.

For example, is Roger Ebert allowed to post his review of “Spider-Man 4” in the middle of the movie itself?

Should Fred Phelps be allowed to protest a Public-University Production of “Corpus Christi” from the front row of the theatre?

To respect the rights of both groups, he should’ve been allowed to speak and distribute his bibles, OUTSIDE the event.

If you look at our history of protesting, it’s very clear that protestors are allowed to peaceably assemble outside the event or company they are in disagreement with.

To allow them inside the venue, event, building interferes with the 1st Amendment rights of those they criticize.

Picture it, Orly Taitz protesting Obama—from inside the Oval Office during one of his televised addresses! Would we be able to understand either one of them?

Joe Allen Doty

June 28th, 2010

I have been to a Tulsa Diversity Pride Festival and Parade in several years; but, when folks like Fred Phelps’ cult church and others showed up, they were NOT allowed on city park property. But, they could stand on the nearby sidewalks which were across the street.

And the anti-gays could be on the sidewalks and public property along the parade route. But, they were not supposed to step on the street and interfere with the parade.

In 2001, an anti-gay “Christian” group who looked like Hell’s Angels bikers were on the parade route and I was on a float in the parade. They used bull horns to use vulgar and pornographic words against those in the parade. They even carried signs that had those words on them.

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