'No dogs, no politics, no religious orders.' Christian activist fights Girdwood Forest Fair ban in court

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ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - A Christian activist who has protested at Anchorage gay pride events filed a lawsuit against the city Thursday claiming he was kicked out of the Girdwood Forest Fair for expressing his religious beliefs.

"Where Alaska’s citizens are free to walk they are also free to talk," an attorney for David Grisham said in a prepared statement Monday.

Grisham recently made headlines after filming himself entering the Santa Claus House in North Pole, and telling customers and children that Santa Claus is not real.

Longtime Girdwood Forest Fair organizer Tommy O’Malley said Girdwoodians added the ground rules against proselytizing decades ago, after a group of Hare Krishnas marched through the festival. Attendees’ children trailed behind them like pied pipers, he said.

"We wanted it to be kind of a conflict-free thing," O'Malley said of the fair. "It’s like, what two things are you not allowed to discuss, generally? Politics and religion.”

Hand-painted on faded wooden placards, signs can be found surrounding the event: “No dogs. No Politics. No religious orders.”

Often Instagrammed, the rules are no joke, however. Grisham found out the hard way July 8 when he and his step-daughter attended the festival with literature in hand. A city attorney says Grisham was speaking loudly and “aggressively approaching fair-goers in an attempt to speak to them.”

Security arrived. An arrest threatened.

Grisham eventually moved to a nearby sidewalk, but a First Amendment battle was born. Best known in Alaska for his Santa Claus House video, Grisham has teamed with the Center for Religious Expression to file a lawsuit against the city of Anchorage.

Grisham’s Anchorage-based attorney, Anne Helzer, said Grisham would not be available to comment due to the ongoing lawsuit.

“Anchorage’s adoption and enforcement of ‘no religious orders’ in a public park is an unconstitutional burden upon free speech. The permit does not affect Mr. Grisham’s or Ms. Watson’s constitutional rights because the event was free and open to the public during (the) entirety of the event," Helzer said today, referring to Grisham's stepdaughter, Tina Watson, who joined in the lawsuit.

The suit argues that Grisham and his supporters have every right to express their religious beliefs and hand out literature at the Forest Fair, despite the event’s longstanding ban on such activities. City attorneys said they are aware of the suit but have not yet been served paperwork.

The city says Grisham was able to speak on nearby public property for two to three hours and could have applied for a permit to use the city park land on a different date.

Grisham, who is sometimes described as the pastor for a group called “Last Frontier Evangelism-Repent Alaska,” successfully sued the city of Fort Worth after he was removed from a gay pride event in that city, according to local news accounts.

Grisham also has protested at gay pride events in Anchorage.

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