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Woodbury man alleges free speech violations in lawsuit against city

Dr. James Grinols, shown here in a 2012 photo from a Republican Party caucus where he announced his candidacy for U.S. Senate, has filed suit against the city of Woodbury for alleged First Amendment violations. (Bulletin file photo)

A faith-based organization on Monday filed suit against the city of Woodbury, alleging a city ordinance has infringed on a resident’s First Amendment rights.

Center for Religious Expression (CRE) filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court and a motion seeking a preliminary injunction against the city on behalf of Woodbury resident Dr. James Grinols.

The lawsuit takes aim at a city ordinance the CRE says “compels” public speakers to obtain a permit before being able to hold speeches in city parks, on city sidewalks and other public places.

“This ordinance robs Dr. Grinols and other ordinary citizens of their First Amendment right to free speech,” CRE attorney Nate Kellum said in the release. “We are concerned whenever Americans are denied a voice in the public square.”

The city’s communications coordinator, Jason Egerstrom, said the city won’t comment on the case since it has not yet been served with the suit.

“Obviously the city of Woodbury does not limit a person’s right to free speech,” he said.

The release states Grinols attempted to obtain a permit to speak at Carver Lake Park, but that request was denied. The CRE argues the city ordinance “contains no criteria, allowing the decision-maker to deny the permit for any reason or no reason at all,” according to the release.

According to a copy of the complaint filed with the court, Grinols spoke out about his religious beliefs in 2008 at the Central Park amphitheater and sought to do more public speaking.

“He wanted to stand on the proverbial − and in some instances, actual − soap box in public spots and let his views be known,” the complaint states.

Grinols then did so through 2009, when Woodbury City Council passed an ordinance that required a permit to hold speeches under certain conditions.

The ordinance reads “No processions, parades, pageants, ceremonies, exhibitions, celebrations, training exercises, speeches, entertainment or other public gatherings shall be allowed to pass through or take place in any public street, site or open space except by permit issued by the public safety department.”

CRE lawyers argue that the city’s ordinance contains no criteria and allows the person issuing the permit to arbitrarily deny it, as they allege the city did last year.

The complaint states Grinols filed for a permit on Aug. 16 for a speaking event set for Aug. 22 at Carver Lake Park. Grinols did not receive a response from the city by Aug. 21.

According to an event listing sent by Grinols to the Woodbury Bulletin, the three-hour event was to focus on the topic of gay marriage.

The complaint states Woodbury  police Cmdr. John Altman had denied the permit request on grounds that another group – a local GOP organization – had already been allowed to hold an event at the park’s pavilion on the same day.

“But Cmdr. Altman emphasized that none of the entire 150-acre park was available to Grinols that day,” the complaint states.

Grinols wrote the city to complain about the process, the legality of which was defended by an attorney for the city, according to the complaint.

Grinols, who previously launched a public campaign in search of presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s birth records, in 2012 announced short-lived bid for U.S. Senate during a Woodbury Republican caucus event.

Mike Longaecker

Mike Longaecker is the regional public safety reporter for RiverTown Multimedia. His coverage area spans St. Croix and Pierce counties. Longaecker served from 2011-2015 as editor of the Woodbury Bulletin. A University of Wisconsin-River Falls graduate, Longaecker previously reported for the Red Wing Republican Eagle and for the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau. You can follow him on Twitter at @Longaecker

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