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A Wisconsin evangelist's appearance Saturday in Loring Park to hand out Bibles to gay pride festival-goers was relatively low-key compared with the highly publicized court battle over his right to do so.
Brian Johnson, 53, of Hayward, Wis., his wife, Doris, and son, Jason, arrived at the Minneapolis park wearing yellow T-shirts printed with the words "Free Bibles." They pulled rolling suitcases full of Bibles and attracted little attention, stopping only to hand out Bibles or to engage in conversation when asked. They encountered a few challengers and bemused glances from festival attendees familiar with the court case, but attracted little attention until a gaggle of television cameras began to follow them.
"We're not interested in preaching, and we never were," Johnson said. "We're not here for all that stuff in the news. We're the ones that meet and have honest conversations with people, and we have our own rules that we go by as far as conduct is concerned."
Johnson said he believes that homosexuality is a sin, but he insisted that he is not forceful about his message.
A federal judge ruled Friday that Johnson had the First Amendment right to pass out Bibles in the park after Twin Cities Pride filed a motion seeking a temporary restraining order to keep him from handing out materials there, saying he was deceitful about a message they said was anti-gay.
Another protester at Saturday's event, John Chisham of Marshall, Minn., attracted far more attention than the Johnsons as he stood on a box with a sign that read "You are an abomination to God, You justify the wicked," preaching to a jeering crowd. Chisham attracted shouts of disapproval and arguments from passersby. Eventually, Pride attendees stood in front of him with signs that read, "Standing on the Side of Love."
Chisham, who described himself as a Christian missionary, said he had followed Johnson's case but had planned to come to Pride anyway. He brought a decibel meter to prove, he said, that he was acting within the law by not being disruptive.
Minneapolis police Sgt. Fred McCormick looked on as protesters argued with Chisham, breaking things up a few times when things got too heated. One man who shoved Chisham was detained by police but released without a ticket.
Chisham was acting within the law, McCormick said.
"The thing is, he's got the right to be here. He's been cooperative and is entitled to do this, but we're not going to tolerate it if it gets too heated," the officer said. "This is healthy dialogue, but unfortunately it is taking up resources."
The festival culminates Sunday with the Ashley Rukes GLBT Pride Parade, which in past years has drawn a crowd of 125,000. It begins at 11 a.m. at Hennepin Avenue and 3rd Street in downtown Minneapolis and ends at Loring Park.
Abby Simons • 612-673-4921