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Bibles Once Again Allowed at Gay Pride Fest

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  • Nate Kellum
    Nate Kellum is Chief Counsel for the Center for Religious Expression.
By Nate Kellum, CP Op-Ed Contributor
September 17, 2013|11:29 am

For more than a decade, Brian Johnson had a booth at the annual Twin Cities Pride Fest, a homosexual-themed gathering held in Loring Park in Minneapolis each June. He stayed in his assigned area and greeted attendees with a smile, offering them free Bibles as way of sharing his Christian faith.

Johnson's presence and message never caused a concern. With evangelism being the goal, he made a conscious effort to avoid any discussion about homosexuality. But a few years ago, the festival organizer, Twin Cities Pride, demanded Johnson divulge his personal beliefs about homosexuality, and specifically, whether he considered the behavior a sin. Not liking his affirmative response, they told Johnson he was no longer welcome at the event.

Johnson was unwilling to give up on his ministry. Because Pride Fest is free and open to all, Johnson figured he could still stroll around the public park wearing a t-shirt stating "Free Bibles" and hand out scripture to willing takers. But this time Johnson's efforts were stymied by police officers who arrested him for trespass.

After the charges were dropped, Johnson hoped the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board would step in, acknowledge his First Amendment rights to engage in free expression in the public forum, and protect those rights. But Johnson was mistaken.

Bending to the wishes and prejudices of Twin Cities Pride, the Park Board came up with a new rule especially for Johnson, relegating Bible distribution to the corner of Loring Park and outside the confines of the festival. The rule forced Johnson to an isolated spot where few attendees would ever traverse, preventing him from reaching his intended audience with his intended message.

Left with no other option, Johnson pursued relief in federal court. He entrusted the legal system for assuring his religious liberty. And for good reason: Johnson has every legal right to share his message in a public place.

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But Johnson would be disappointed again. The U.S. District Judge in Minnesota upheld the park rule as constitutional, ruling the Park Board made reasonable provisions for Johnson and his Bibles.

Hearing this news, Johnson could have thrown in the towel. No one would blame him. But Johnson could not shake his love and concern for the lost. Taking to heart the charge in Matthew 28, Johnson was determined to "go and make disciples."

Enlisting the legal aid of the Center for Religious Expression, Johnson decided to appeal the ruling to the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit.

And finally, Johnson's perseverance paid off. The appellate court granted his emergency request for relief regarding the 2012 and 2013 Pride Fest events. Afterward, upon full consideration of Johnson's plight, the Eighth Circuit reversed the ruling of the lower court, remanding the case back, and instructing the court to grant Johnson the relief he has so long sought and fought for – the uninhibited freedom to hand out Bibles at the Twin Cities Pride Fest.

Johnson's road to freedom was lengthy and arduous. But just as our religious liberties didn't come easily, neither will be the effort to retain them. Like Johnson, we must all be vigilant in protecting what should already be guaranteed.

Bibles are back at Pride Fest. Let's make sure they stay.

The Center for Religious Expression a non-profit organization in Memphis, TN dedicated entirely to the protection of religious speech.

Nate Kellum is chief counsel for the Center for Religious Expression a non-profit organization in Memphis, TN dedicated entirely to the protection of religious speech.
 

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