A popular holiday lights festival that has been embroiled in legal battles over free speech will continue for at least three more years.
Duluth Mayor Don Ness announced Tuesday the city has reached a new deal to continue the Bentleyville Tour of Lights at the city's Bayfront Park. A federal judge has twice ruled against the city for trying to ban "street preachers" from evangelizing at the festival.
Festival founder Nathan Bentley said he considered making this the event's last year.
"Because there's just been a handful of noise makers that were making a little bit more noise than I wanted to deal with," Bentley said. "I was going to step back and just rethink if this is where we wanted to be for the next three years or longer."
But an enormous amount of public support made Bentley reconsider, he said. The event, billed as the Midwest's largest holiday light display, runs through Dec. 26.
The Bentleyville Tour of Lights started when Bentley said he went "overboard" decorating his house. The display moved to Duluth's Bayfront Park four years ago. Since 2010, Bentley's festival nonprofit and the city have been engaged in two lawsuits after they tried to ban two "street preachers" from evangelizing at the festival. In both cases a federal judge has ruled in favor of the preachers. Bentley says he's grown weary of the legal fights, but says public support prompted him to re-up his deal with Duluth.
"It was enormous, Facebook, and emails, writing and phone calls, just saying, we want Bentleyville here. We don't care about some minor distractions."
Bentley said the preachers have tamed it down this year.
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