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.

  • JackU

    I find it interesting that we have this article and the 5×8 piece about control of twitter on the same day. Would I be the only one surprised if those calling for the right to ban groups from Twitter would be on the side of the preachers in this case?

  • John P II

    Better to err on the conservative side of free speech and public spaces I think, so I like the temporary restraining order.

    “Trust Jesus! watch the ice.”

  • martha

    I would really like it if one of the many stories on this issue would actually touch on the reasoning of the court and the parties. Instead, we just get reporting on the controversy. Was the judge’s position that you can’t lease out public property to those who will bar entry? What about the blues fest? They eject people. I want to know why the court decided how it decided, not just what it decided.

  • Bob Collins

    As I indicated, this is a temporary restraining order pending the trial, which will not take place until next year. The judge acted on the recommendation of the magistrate last week, who ruled that the city cannot prevent the exercise of speech unless it is deemed to be harassment.

    All of this does not set precedent because the case hasn’t gone to trial yet.

    One of the problems of getting the data you seek is the federal court system, unlike the Minnesota court system, is in the dark ages when it comes to access.