Settlement reached in St. Louis leafleting lawsuit

Thursday, October 22, 2009 | 3:19 p.m. CDT; updated 3:56 p.m. CDT, Thursday, October 22, 2009

ST. LOUIS — A ministry that sought to distribute fliers at a gay pride event in St. Louis has asked for its lawsuit to be dismissed after the city repealed its policy banning leafleting in public parks.

Assistant City Counselor Dan Emerson said Thursday that St. Louis agreed to pay an $80,000 settlement for damages, attorneys' fees and costs in the case. The city did not admit wrongdoing, but Emerson said the case brought some attention to an old law that St. Louis has since repealed.

Members of the St. Louis-based Apple of His Eye ministries said they were threatened with arrest in 2006 for handing out literature and talking about their beliefs during PrideFest, a two-day gay pride festival. At the time, the city had a ban on leafleting in public parks that dated back at least 100 years, Emerson said. The ban has since been lifted.

Apple of His Eye ministries filed a lawsuit against the city in U.S. District Court in 2008. Lawyer Rick Nelson, who works with a group of Christian attorneys known as the Alliance Defense Fund, said the ministry was able to express its views and leaflet at the park this year after a judge ordered it should be allowed.

"We are pleased that the city of St. Louis now recognizes the First Amendment rights of ministries who wish to share their viewpoint on important social and moral issues at events taking place at public locations," Nelson said in a statement. He asked for the lawsuit's dismissal Wednesday.

Alan Butterworth, a missionary for Apple of His Eye, said the organization also hands out fliers at other events. His belief is that "the Bible is the word of God and homosexuality is a sin in the Bible."

But, he said, at events where he hands out literature or talks about the ministry, "I'm not usually having a long conversation about sin. I'm more concerned about your relationship with God."

Speaking from Boca Raton, Fla., by phone, Butterworth said he lived in St. Louis for years and still returns to the city for ministry training and events.

Chad Fox, now president of the nonprofit Pride St. Louis, which sponsors PrideFest, recalls Apple of His Eye members speaking to him at the 2006 event about how they believe homosexuality is a sin.

It's not clear if the park ranger who threatened to arrest the ministry members was aware of the city's ban at the time on leafleting in public parks, Emerson said.

The ministry was allowed to leaflet at this year's PrideFest at Tower Grove Park in June.

"We really ignored them," Fox said. "They handed out pamphlets, but everything went smooth."

PrideFest organizers did not play a role in the court proceedings. But Fox said he believes the matter has been peacefully resolved.

Fox noted that PrideFest pays large fees for the use of Tower Grove Park, and vendors who take part in the event are charged as a result. He said that normally includes churches that want a booth, but organizers did not charge Apple of His Eye for wanting to leaflet.

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