Judge upholds the right to preach

About a month ago I asked whether a city — in this case, Duluth — can assign away First Amendment rights in a public space by renting it to a private organization which then seeks to ban certain expression. Now we know. It won’t be able to this year.

The Star Tribune reports that Judge Michael Davis has barred officials — at least temporarily — from preventing street preachers at Duluth’s Bentleyville Tour of Lights.

Steve Jankowski of Duluth and Peter Scott of Hibbing were kicked out of Duluth’s Bayfront Festival Park last year — a public park leased to a private organization — for preaching. The city has given the festival organizers “exclusive rights” to the park and the city administrator says that gives the organization the right to ban the preachers.

“Bentleyville is not a public forum, and the nonprofit is not a state actor,” Duluth City Attorney Gunnar Johnson said last week. “The plaintiffs do not have First Amendment rights in Bentleyville.”

But a federal magistrate last week recommended a temporary restraining order against the city, a recommendation Judge Davis has apparently upheld.

The full suit will go to trial next year. Until then, this what the freedom of speech looks like:

This latest controversy follows one in Minneapolis in 2010 in which an evangelist from Wisconsin sought to distribute Bibles and discuss sin at the gay pride festival in Minneapolis. Organizers of the festival sought to bar Brian Johnson, but federal Judge John Tunheim ruled the exclusion would have violated Johnson’s rights.