City says free speech does not apply at BentleyvilleFirst Amendment rights don’t apply in Bentleyville, the city of Duluth argues in an objection filed Friday in federal court.
By: John Lundy, Duluth News Tribune
First Amendment rights don’t apply in Bentleyville, the city of Duluth argues in an objection filed Friday in federal court.
“Bentleyville is not a public forum, and the nonprofit is not a state actor,” Duluth City Attorney Gunnar Johnson said, reading from the city’s objection. “The plaintiffs do not have First Amendment rights in Bentleyville.”
Federal Magistrate Judge Leo Brisbois recommended this week in favor of a temporary restraining order that would permit Steve Jankowski of Duluth and Peter Scott of Hibbing to resume preaching in the holiday attraction at Bayfront Festival Park. Last year, city police told them to stop preaching or leave. They filed a lawsuit in federal district court in Minneapolis on Nov. 18 claiming their First Amendment rights had been violated.
Both sides expect Michael Davis, chief judge of the court, to rule next week. If he agrees with Brisbois’ recommendation, Jankowski and Scott might be preaching in Bentleyville again before the end of the season. The attraction’s last night is Dec. 26.
Brisbois gave the city until Friday to file an objection, and the city complied, Johnson said. “By enforcing Minnesota trespass law at the request of the nonprofit, the city is not engaged in state action that deprives the plaintiffs of their First Amendment rights,” the objection stated.
Jonathan Scruggs, the Alliance Defense Fund lawyer representing Jankowski and Scott, said he had told the court he wouldn’t file a response.
“We are happy to rest on our prior arguments,” Scruggs said. “We continue to believe that the city’s policy violates the First Amendment.”
His clients are hopeful the judge will act to “return free speech to Bayfront Festival Park,” Scruggs said.
He and the plaintiffs see the issue differently than the city, Scruggs said, and, “I think every single federal court to address this situation sees it differently as well. City police officers are threatening to remove my clients from the park, so clearly there’s state action here.”
Davis’ decision will not be the final resolution of the case. The lawsuit itself is expected to come to trial next year.