Charges dropped against man who rode through gay rights parade

ST. PAUL (AP) — A state law against hate crimes violates First Amendment free speech protections so charges were dropped against a man who rode a horse through a gay rights parade, the state Supreme Court ruled Thursday.
In a unanimous decision, the court said part of the law is too vague.
“First Amendment protection is not limited to the written or spoken word; it extends to some expressive activity,” the ruling said.
For example, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that burning a cross at a political rally is constitutionally protected, Justice Alan Page wrote.
At an October 1995 rally in Rochester’s Peace Plaza, Kurtis Machholz of Brownsdale was accused of riding his horse through a “National Coming Out Day” rally and shouting “You’re giving us AIDS,” “You’re spreading your filth,” and “There are no homosexuals in heaven.” After knocking down an easel, he left the rally.
He was charged with felony harassment.
The court’s ruling reversed an appeals court decision. Page said that Machholz’s statements were not directed at an individual and were shouted during a public event at a public place.
“Machholz’s actions were not equivalent to fighting words,” Page wrote.
Fighting words are not protected speech. They are defined by the U.S. Supreme court to be “shown likely to produce clear and present danger of a serious substantial evil that rises far above public inconvenience, annoyance, or unrest.”
Under the state’s harassment law, a person has to feel “oppressed, persecuted and intimidated.” The state argued the law was directed at harassing conduct, not speech.
But Machholz’s attorney, Peter Sandberg, contended that his actions were protected under the First Amendment, and the justices agreed.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Wes Skoglund said lawmakers will reconsider that portion of the harassment law this session.
“We’ll try to fix it if we can,” said Skoglund, DFL-Minneapolis.