Should Anti-Gay Preacher Be Able to Pass Out Bibles at Pride Parade?

Should Anti-Gay Preacher Be Able to Pass Out Bibles at Pride Parade? June 25, 2010

After a decade as an official vendor, Brian Johnson was denied a vendor license at the Twin Cities GLBT Pride Parade last year. But he attended anyway, passed out Bibles, and told people that homosexuality is a sin. This year, he not only didn’t receive a permit to be a vendor, but the Pride Parade went to court seeking to block him from passing out materials, including Bibles.

The Minneapolis Park Board told Johnson he could, but Twin Cities Pride is telling him he cannot. So now U.S. District Court Judge John Tunheim. The StarTribune reports on the story in part one and part two.

Not unlike the unethical outing of an anti-gay preacher earlier this week, this is yet another episode in which the rights of a group (those who want to peacefully enjoy the Pride weekend) butt up against the rights of the individual (the 1st amendment rights of Brian Johnson to publicly condemn homosexuality).

And here is the impasse at which the judges in our constitutional democracy often find themselves.

Which way do you think Judge Tunheim should rule?

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  • Rev. Chris Byars

    Why is it anti-gay to believe homosexual relations is a sin? What is wrong with his passing out Bibles and literature, is it hateful. I suppose you feel the same to be true of those who do the same at Porn gatherings to give Bibles and literature to those that work in the sex industry. Fornication is fornication and by most scripture that is still sinful. It’s hateful to disparage the character of people and it is against that whole 8th commandment thing, you know the one that says “You shall not bear false witness” that may the the ninth in the Reformed numbering of the commandments. I am a fan of Exodus International, but I guess they are anti-gay and hateful also. I would rather say that he sounds pro-scripture and pro-traditional values. No one has to take them, but if one feels that this is not in line with God’s intention they can pursue an exodus. I know that you think you are right and everyone else is wrong and narrow-minded, but what if you’re wrong and 2000+ years of Judeo-Christian history is correct. Just a thought. I’m sure many at Colonial would disagree with you.

    In Christ,
    Pr. Chris Byars

  • I would want the judge to look at all relevant issues and provide the best legal ruling he can. I would not want or expect the judge to provide a ruling on anyone’s personal beliefs or to solve any theological or philosophical issues. I would also encourage both “sides” in the issue to be honest with their convictions and act accordingly. As a Christian I would also call on all involved to seek repentant hearts and find ways to be loving to each other. Specifically, and because I am a Christian, I would tell Brian Johnson that he clearly has chosen a method of “evangelism” that seems to be destined to backfire and too obviously feeds his own needs (I suspect some level of self-righteousness though I cannot know his heart) and creates a lot of animosity (which Mr. Johnson may see as evidence that he is merely proclaiming God’s truth). Unfortunately, I do not see what he is doing as being similar to what we see with Jesus (who would probably be having a BBQ with the GLBT folks and getting himself condemned by the religious establishment). In short, the judge should only provide the best ruling he can according to the law and everyone else should work it out the best they can.

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  • wackywilliams

    thats a hard one Tony but I personly think if he wants to go, pass out bibles & keep his trap shut then that would be ok but if he wants to slander the people there thats wrong, thats one of the main reasons that thire is a gay pride event, becuse they want a place were they can go & be them selves & for a couple of days not have to fear jugement, If he wants to stand a respectible distence then he can spout what ever he wants & people can choose to ingnore him, so personly I would leave the dision up to him becuse no where in that bible he is handing out douse it say to shout at & condeme people.

  • Since it’s a public area, clearly the judge must rule (and did so today) that the pastor has a right to be there. This is a case of freedom to vs. freedom from. “Freedom to speak” is constitutional. “Freedom from offense” is not.

  • Tom

    As long as the pastor did not interfere with the parade, or the crowd’s enjoyment of the parade, even if he said “homosexuality is a sin” (unless he was screaming it at the top of his lungs, therefore, infringing on the crowd’s enjoyment of the parade), then he has the right to do so per the laws of the land.

  • Tom

    To Wacky William: the Prophets did a lot of shouting and condemning people.

  • I can be a bit of an extremist on the 1st Amendment, so…

  • Wes

    Let’s turn the tables and think of what would happen if an LGBT group gathered outside of his church and week after week told the parishoners that Christianity was a lie. Would the church have to tolerate it in the name of free speech? Would it be considered harrassment?

  • Kristen

    This seems very much like Hurley v. GLIB (Gay Lesbian Irish of Boston). GLIB wanted to march in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade. (Which is more or less open to most comers.) The parade organizers said no. Irish pride is all mixed up and intertwined with Catholic pride, and GLIB people you don’t fit in with that. GLIB sued. The Supreme Court ruled for the parade organizers. (This was early-to-mid 1990s.) The parade organizers get to define and control their “message” and get to determine what fits with that message and what doesn’t.

    It seems to me that the Pride Parade organizers’ best argument would be to build on the Hurley case that ruled it was okay to exclude the GLIB marchers. (Sometimes life is ironic.)

    Now, there are arguably distinctions between marching in the parade, being officially licensed as a vendor, and just sort of being around and doing your own thing but if it were up to me, I think I’d probably side with the parade organizers on this one.

    And when this guy wants to organize his own parade the next week and keep the Pride people out, I’m okay with that too.

  • Speaking as an outsider – a non-American – I think you’ve got to value that First Ammendment stuff pretty highly. Whether speaking or handing out literature, as soon as you start to limit its scope, you’ve lost the principle.

    No one has the right to incite violence, say, but surely everyone has the right to make others feel uncomfortable, if they feel strongly enough about the issue.

  • I would say it depends on whether his behavior was abusive or not. If he goes about it in a civil way, I’d say he has the right to do it just as much as the people at the pride parade have a right to be there.

  • Legally, I think he certainly has a right to pass out Bibles in any public venue. As a Christian I can’t see much good coming from this though, something tells me he’s not in the business of affirming homosexuality and getting in people’s faces at this kind of event is unlikely have any effect, other than pissing people off. He can do it, but he shouldn’t.

  • To me, this is not a hard one. It’s a public park. The First Amendment does not allow discrimination due to opinions on public property. The Festival folks are within their rights not to give them a Festival license, but the Park Board is also right in saying that it is public space so no one can be banned from distributing literature there.

    The judge has now ruled and agrees with me.

    I wonder how many people who want to bar the Bible distributor who thinks gay sex is immoral would take the same position if it was the KKK holding the Festival and they were trying to bar a Bible distributor who was saying the Bible opposes racism? It shouldn’t matter whose views we more align with. Freedom of speech needs protection regardless.

  • Alex

    Let the man pass out Bibles and the local MCC (i assume there is one) should set up shop next to him and pass out the literature to help properly interpret the Bible 😉 I personally would not have tried to get him kicked out to begin with, it just gives volume to his voice.

  • Tom

    Wes, yes if the gay group was civil and not obnoxious, that would be free speech too. Any other questions?

  • Anon

    Every gay pride event I’ve ever been to has had angry Christians loudly exercising their First-Amendment rights. This is par for the course. Most of us sensible LGBT folks (and allies) have the good sense to ignore them and enjoy the parade (especially since these folks really seem to get off on being confrontational jerks for Jesus). What I wonder about is what drives these Christians to be such rude assholes. We get it you don’t like gay people.

  • Anon

    Also, as a strategic matter, I think the Twin Cities Pride folks erred in litigating this matter, as it only resulted in more attention for this lovely gentlemen. Having allowed him to stroll the grounds with the festivities and ignoring him would have been a wiser strategy. And, I emphasize again, a handful of angry, self-righteous Christians running around denouncing everyone in sight as a sinner is par for the course at gay pride events. Much like petulant children, these folks are best ignored.

  • I personally think that the next time a Christian group plops down thirtysome thousand dollars to reserve that park event for some even that GLBT people should show up and begin passing around materials and carrying offensive signs. Oh, we shouldn’t forget our voice-amplifyers. The anti-gay protesters never do when they come to our parties.

    My guess is that the GLBT protesters would be arrested and/or jammed in some “free-speech zone” a half-mile or so away, while the anti-gay fundies are always allowed free reign at our events…

  • Tom

    Anon – Unfortunately those kind of Christians have been convinced by their leadership that America is being punished by God for being soft on homosexuals (and legalizing abortion and a host of other corporate sins). So they feel an urgent need to confront homosexuals and their supporters.

    Jon – any group that uses over-amplification to disrupt an event should not be allowed to do so. That borders on harassment.

  • The Minneapolis police described the use of “voice amplifyers” as “healthy dialogue”. Similar devices were used this year in Iowa City. I’m sure that we’re not anomolies. GLBT folks have been experiencing this type of “healthy dialogue” for years. When leaders of such events have tried to keep out harassers, it never flies.

  • Rev. Chris Byars

    It’s amazing how it moves from a man wanting pass out Bibles and pamphlets and automatically moves to the Phelps’ Westboro Baptist “God Hates Fags” group…wow… no where does it say he had a bullhorn or amplification just Bibles and pamphlets.

    It’s funny that the GLBTQ crowd and the Westboro Baptist nutjobs have the same argument just come at it from different angles. They are both taking two words “accept” and “approve” and try and make them synonymous. If you “accept” you must “approve”… The greatest half truth is the argument of who Jesus would hang out with…he hung with the fringe and loved them in spite of their sin…he accepted them but did not approve of the sin. He accepted the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4), but never approved that she was an adulteress (notice He never states “It is good that you have had five husbands and the man you are now living with is not your husbands”).

  • I wasn’t talking about Phelps. Other anti-gay Christians have noise-makers, too (, for example). Chicago Pride had protesters this year with bullhorns, too (check out Andrew Marin’s blog — and also this one, too:

    People like to pretend that Phelps is an abhoration. Not true.

  • Anon


    Have you ever attended a gay pride event? From the tone of your comments, I suspect not. The hyper-marginal Phelps cult are not the only variety of Christians that behave obnoxiously at LGBT community events. I wish it were the case, since the Westboro folks are so small in their numbers, but it’s clearly not the case.

  • wackywilliams

    I happen to know some “conservitve” christions are at the pride event in the fray, marching with the GLBT not aganst, I consider myself to be a relitivly consertive christion & I went to the St Louis gay pride & I hung out with my friends & showed off my service dog, I have quite a few people that are GLBT that I know & love! also before you condem ALL cristions by the few loud mouths you might want to check out Andrew Marins sight him & severl of my other chicago friends did a BEUTIFULE demenstration of TRUE christionanity! I am also friends with Tony Jones, so we don’t have to be on differnt sides, were called to be a BODY of Christ not a bunch of differnt parts beating eachother up & tearing each other down.

  • CJ

    This is a case of the old “your right to swing your arm ends at my nose” example. The first amendment protects this guy’s right to hand out Bibles or pamphlets or condoms or whatever, wherever he wants if it’s a public place as long as he’s following well established rules of decorum. I don’t agree with him, I don’t think his practice is worthwhile but as long as he’s not harassing anyone then he’s well within his rights.