A judge is expected to rule on request by the GLBT festival to keep Wisconsin evangelist from distributing literature.
A federal judge is expected to decide Friday morning whether a Wisconsin evangelist may hand out Bibles without a vendor license at this weekend's Twin Cities Pride festival in Minneapolis' Loring Park.
During an hourlong hearing Thursday, attorneys for Twin Cities Pride, the nation's third-largest gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered [GLBT] festival, argued that Brian Johnson is welcome to attend, but he shouldn't be allowed to hand out materials because Pride denied him a vendor permit.
Attorneys for the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board argued that prohibiting Johnson from distributing literature would violate his First Amendment rights.
U.S. District Court Judge John Tunheim initially said he would decide by the end of the day Thursday, but the ruling was delayed.
The hearing followed a motion for a temporary restraining order filed Wednesday by Pride attorney Amy Slusser, who argued in court that if Johnson is allowed to distribute materials without paying vendor fees or abiding by Pride's rules, it would dilute the festival's message of tolerance and cause "irreparable harm."
Slusser also argued that "anarchy could ensue" if anyone was allowed to distribute material, regardless of how inflammatory it was to attendees. Additionally, organizers fear the 200,000 expected attendees would believe Pride approved of Johnson's messages.
"This is not an average street fair," Slusser said. "These people specifically apply [to become vendors] so they can show support for GLBT issues."
Johnson, 53, of Hayward, Wis., handed out Bibles for 10 years as an official Pride vendor until organizers denied him vendor privileges in 2009. They said he espoused anti-gay messages and had been dishonest about his intentions. Despite being blocked as a vendor, he showed up to hand out Bibles at last year's festival and was arrested when he refused to leave. Charges were later dropped.
Pride officials denied his vendor application again this year. But Johnson, aided by an attorney for the Alliance Defense Fund, persuaded the Park Board to grant him permission to distribute his materials. Pride officials urged the Park Board this week to reverse its decision, but it refused.
Park Board attorney Michael Salchert argued that Johnson will be asked to leave if he is disruptive or abusive or if his materials obstruct foot traffic.
"We really do not see the irreparable harm here," Salchert said. "He had a booth for 10 years prior to 2009 without causing irreparable harm. In the midst of 300,000 people, his free speech is almost inaudible."
Johnson's attorney, Nate Kellum, who participated in the hearing via teleconference, argued that Pride organizers are attempting to keep Johnson from distributing materials "because they don't like his message." Kellum said, "All he intends to do is go through, talk to people, and, as the opportunity presents itself, hand out Bibles."
Johnson said earlier this week that he does not bring up homosexuality to people who approach him, but he shares his views when asked and does "warn them" about what he sees as the consequences.
Abby Simons • 612-673-4921