Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Free Speech Claims From Anti-Gay Protestors at Twin Cities Pride

The Twin Cities Pride festival and parade in Minneapolis is coming up this weekend. But things are being stirred up by one Brian Johnson, an anti-gay activist and preacher that has threatened to bring suit against the Minneapolis Parks and Recreation Board (the board that issues permits for the park where the festival is being held) if he is not allowed to display signs, distribute literature, and counsel attendees with his message that homosexuality is sinful.

Johnson relies, of course, on a First Amendment right to enter the park and express his personal views. The Board has agreed to his demands thus far, but now Twin Cities Pride is threatening its own suit against the Board to bar Johnson. On its website, Twin Cities Pride said it anticipates filing for an injunction in the District Court in Minneapolis...yesterday.

Dale Carpenter has coverage of the issue over at Volokh, where he puts forward the argument that the Supreme Court's decision in Hurley v. GLIB supports TCP's position:

TCP claims that it cannot be forced to include speech from an active participant — one who distributes literature and displays signs — whose message is diametrically opposed to its own within the boundaries and during the times in which it has obtained a permit to craft its own message of acceptance of homosexuality. His active presence on the festival grounds may mistakenly be perceived as reflecting TCP’s judgement that his religious views are worthy of presentation as part of a range of views about homosexuality or to express a liberal tolerance for messages of condemnation. It would be impractical to disclaim the message of one or more moving counter-speakers.
Aside from the First Amendment issue here, which seems to be a cross between Hurley and the Fred Phelps case coming up, I am inclined to say let the guy protest. Really, aside from being a mild annoyance, the worst I can see happening is someone taking a swing at him (which is probably what he's looking for anyway). I don't think any court would take seriously an argument that his being there or his message would incite violence, but it's interesting to ask whether protestors in other situations would. And isn't this just one of the situations where we, as Americans, have decided that it is better to allow inconvenient speech we may not agree with so that we may, I don't know, rent out parks for Pride festivals?

Happy pride, Minneapolis.

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