A Wisconsin man was allowed to pass out Bibles at a gay pride festival on Sunday after a federal appeals court granted him a last-minute preliminary injunction late last week.
Brian Johnson, a taxidermist from Hayward, Wis., was awarded the opportunity to distribute Bibles at the Twin Cities Pride Festival, which is held at the 42-acre Loring Park in Minneapolis, this past weekend. The U.S. Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals granted him a temporary injunction on Thursday.
According to the Star Tribune, Johnson attended the 40th annual Pride Fest with his family and a suitcase full of Bibles. He spent several hours passing out the books while, at the advice of his attorneys, he was filmed by his adult son in order to document his interaction with others at the event.
"I do this once a year. I talk to people about the love of Jesus Christ," he told the Tribune.
Johnson filed his appeal after the U.S. District Court in Minnesota decided in favor of the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board (MPRB), which sought to allow Johnson the opportunity to distribute Bibles only within a certain zone at the event.
Johnson began handing out Bibles at the festival in 1995, and for about a decade he did so by setting up a booth alongside other vendors and nonprofit organizations. In 2009, though, the situation changed when Pride Fest officials denied his request to set up a booth.
"They did not like his beliefs regarding homosexual conduct and the Bible and they rejected his application," Jonathan Scruggs, an Alliance Defense Fund attorney working on Johnson's case, told The Christian Post on Monday.
Instead of getting a booth, Johnson tried to distribute Bibles while walking around the park during the event in 2010, but was arrested for doing so. After receiving a letter from the ADF explaining why it was Johnson's constitutional right to distribute literature on public land, the MPRB agreed and allowed him to do so once again.
But Pride Fest officials countered by filing a lawsuit, which resulted in a settlement between the MPRB and Pride Fest organizers in which special zones were created where people could distribute literature. Scruggs says, however, that the compromise wasn't fair to Johnson.
The physical zones that were established were outside of the event, and wouldn't have allowed Johnson to reach his "target audience," said Scruggs. Even worse, the compromise still restricted Johnson's free speech rights.
"To suppress speech in a public park, the burden is on the government to show that restriction is necessary, and the government simply cannot carry that burden ... There's no reason to prohibit Johnson from distributing literature throughout the park because literature distribution doesn't cause any problems," said Scruggs.
Earlier this year, Johnson's attorneys filed a suit of their own with the hope gaining a permanent injunction in his favor.
Scruggs says every other court ruling on similar literature distribution issues seems to support Johnson's case. Even though the temporary injunction is an encouraging sign, he believes there is still a lot of work to be done to ensure that Johnson will be able to continue sharing his faith by passing out Bibles at future Pride Fest events.
"I think it's a good sign, but it's far from decisive," said Scruggs. "The appeal is still ongoing."
CP was unable to reach a spokesperson with the MPRB before publication.