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Federal judge: Ministry can leaflet at St. Louis PrideFest

By The Associated Press
06.16.09

Editor’s note: The Associated Press reported on Oct. 22 that Assistant City Counselor Dan Emerson said the city of St. Louis had agreed to pay $80,000 to settle the lawsuit brought by Apple of His Eye ministry. The group said it would ask the court to dismiss the lawsuit. The city did not admit wrongdoing.

ST. LOUIS — A federal judge has issued a permanent order allowing a ministry to leaflet at a gay-pride event in St. Louis later this month.

A lawyer representing Apple of His Eye Inc. said yesterday that the ministry would resume religious leafleting at St. Louis' PrideFest on June 27-28, following the judge's ruling.

Ministry members have said they were threatened with arrest by a ranger when they tried to hand out religious fliers at PrideFest in Tower Grove Park in 2006. Some viewed their actions as disruptive and felt they were violating a city ban on leafleting in public parks.

The group's lawyer, Rick Nelson, said members of the Messianic Jewish organization believe Jesus Christ is the Messiah and were handing out fliers about the Gospel. The literature did not mention homosexuality, he said.

The ministry sued last year, and U.S. District Judge Henry Autrey issued a preliminary order, saying St. Louis can't totally ban leafleting in public parks.

Autrey made his order permanent on June 11. The city must inform police and Pridefest organizers that leafleting is allowed and simply handing out religious fliers is not grounds for restricting their actions, he said.

City representatives say the order doesn't change much, since officials had already repealed the ordinance in question. They also had agreed that Autrey's temporary order should be made permanent, court documents said.

Officials felt the ban on leafleting in parks was outdated, said Heather Dunsford, administrative assistant to St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay. She said she couldn't say whether the PrideFest lawsuit sparked a closer look at the law.

Messages left with PrideFest organizers seeking comment were not returned in time for this article.

The two-day gay pride festival draws about 80,000 participants and includes a well-attended parade, entertainment, food and information booths.

Nelson, an attorney with the Orlando, Fla.-based American Liberties Institute, said the leafleting was not anti-gay. The group handed out "standard missionary literature," he said. "It's not targeting anyone at the event," he said. "It doesn't take up homosexuality."

The institute worked with the Alliance Defense Fund, a group of Christian attorneys, to defend the ministry.

A.J. Bockelman, the executive director of PROMO, a statewide advocacy organization for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people, said the judge's ruling was not a surprise because the matter was a freedom of speech issue.


Previous
Religious group can hand out fliers at St. Louis gay-pride event
Federal judge rules that city parks are public forums open to all, government may not stop people from communicating inside them. 06.27.08

Related

Charges dropped against anti-gay protesters

'We cannot stifle speech because we don't want to hear it, or we don't want to hear it now,' says Philadelphia judge. 02.18.05

Christian group can't leaflet at Arab festival, federal judge rules

Lawyer for Arabic Christian Perspective says: 'It's not over'; group will seek permanent injunction against city of Dearborn, Mich. 06.19.09

St. Louis ordered to nix anti-leafleting law
Under consent judgment in ACLU lawsuit, city will stop enforcing ordinance, which made it a crime to place fliers on parked cars, and remove it from books. 02.05.10

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