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Woodbury ordered to change speech ordinance

WOODBURY — Just a few weeks after a Woodbury resident filed a lawsuit against the city for restricting public speeches, a federal judge ordered the city to change a law requiring citizens to obtain permits before speaking publicly.

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The Center for Religious Expression filed the lawsuit last month in U.S. District Court on behalf of Woodbury resident James Grinols. The suit challenged a city ordinance that regulates speeches in parks and recreational areas.

City officials met in a closed session Wednesday to discuss the case, then released a statement announcing their plan to update the ordinance.

“City of Woodbury officials seriously considered the issues brought forth by Grinols and have agreed to propose an amended ordinance to the City Council that is more in line with current case law,” according to the statement. “In reaching this agreement, the city is acting in good faith to balance a person’s right to free speech with the interests of those who rent recreational facilities for private group use.”

Grinols said he was denied a permit to speak about gay marriage at Carver Lake Park in 2013 on the grounds that another event was already being held there.

“First Amendment is the First Amendment for that reason,” he said. “If you can’t have a pretty easy access to this type of thing in a large park, you’d wonder where you could do it.”

The city 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.”

City officials say they hope to have all matters resolved in time for the summer recreational season.

Woodbury also was ordered to pay Grinols’ attorney’s fees and costs.

Grinols said he wasn’t seeking damages, just for the city to recognize the importance of making the parks available for all sorts of public uses.

“I get $1 in judgment,” he said, “which I guess I’ll frame.”

Riham Feshir
Riham Feshir is a reporter and photographer for the Woodbury Bulletin. Her coverage includes Woodbury City Hall, Washington County Board of Commissioners and business news.  Follow Riham on Twitter @RihamFeshir for the latest updates.