St. Paul case to test limits of free preach

Minnesota is getting another test of whether First Amendment rights extend to private functions on public property.

This time it’s St. Paul’s Irish Fair where an evangelical Christian was denied entry because he intended to preach once inside the gates on Harriet Island.

He was stopped by police Cmdr. Patricia Englund, and he’s now suing the city and the police department, the Pioneer Press reports today.

(David) Miller said he intended to enter the fair — a free event open to the public and held on public property — to share his religious views “through signage, literature, open-air speech, and conversation.”

It’s unclear whether Miller and his friends had begun preaching while they were standing outside the fair. But the group members were wearing expressive T-shirts and holding literature, Kellum said.

“So anyone who wanted to guess could surmise what they were going to do,” he said.

As they stood outside the event, preparing to go in, a St. Paul police officer “asked what the group was protesting,” the lawsuit said. A group member said they weren’t protesters and that they planned to enter the fair to preach, according to the suit.

Englund then joined the conversation and “abruptly put an end to those plans,” the suit claimed.

Englund told Miller and his friends that because the Irish Fair had a special-event permit, they could make the rules, which included banning protests, the suit said. Englund told the group they were not welcome, the suit said.

“Here’s the deal,” Englund told the group, according to the lawsuit. “I understand what you’re trying to do. But again, this is an event put on by the Irish Fair of Minnesota. This is their event. This is not your event.”

Minnesota communities don’t have a strong record of winning cases like this.

An attempt to ban a man from preaching and handing out Bibles at the gay pride festival in Minneapolis’ Loring Park was overturned in 2013 when a federal judge ruled the Minneapolis Parks Board violated the preacher’s First Amendment rights.

And in a similar case, Duluth lost its contention that a street preacher’s rights weren’t violated on the public property used for the Bentleyville, the Christmas lights display at Bayfront Park, because it said it had contracted the site out to a private organizer. A federal judge didn’t buy it.

After losing, the organizer hinted that he might just shut the annual event down.

But it, and the pride festival, continue along just fine.