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First Amendment Clash Brewing Over Gay Pride Festival in Minneapolis

Must an expressive association that paid for a permit in a public park to advance its message include someone using the event to convey an opposing message? Specifically, must an anti-gay preacher and others be allowed to condemn homosexuality in signs and literature by roaming the permit grounds of a gay-pride celebration?

For more than 30 years, gay-rights organizers have annually paid for a permit to hold a gay-pride festival in a small park near downtown Minneapolis.  Last year this cost amounted to more than $36,000 in fees and proceeds paid to the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board (MPRB), which is run by elected commissioners.  More than 400,000 people attend the 2-day festival. The non-profit and mostly volunteer group that runs and pays for the event, Twin Cities Pride (TCP), does so in order to celebrate “Pride,” and to promote equality and acceptance for GLBT people.

Other gay-supportive organizations and vendors are required to distribute literature and display signs only from individual booths, which are approved by TCP if their message is consistent with the Festival message. Other restrictions are imposed to limit littering (for which TCP is responsible) and to maintain crowd control and pedestrian flow. The booths are charged fees that help defray the cost of post-event cleanup, the permit fees, insurance, and contribute significantly to TCP’s annual budget.

This year, an anti-gay activist and preacher named Brian Johnson and his family have insisted that they be given access to the permit grounds during the hours of the festival in order to display signs, distribute literature, and peronally counsel attendees with an opposing  message: that homosexuality is sinful and must be condemned rather than accepted.  Johnson was arrested for trespass last year after he confronted some festival-goers with his message of repentance and condemnation.

Facing potential litigation, [...]

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