Herald Journal Columns
March 27, 2006, Herald Journal

Pastor tape records Johnson


State Sen. Dean Johnson, DFL-Willmar, has apologized and admitted he embellished a conversation he had with state Supreme Court justices on whether the court would consider overturning a state statute about marriage. There’s no point in continuing to rag on him about this mistake.

However, I have heard unfair criticism about the pastor who audiotaped Johnson’s comments to the other pastors about the same sex marriage challenge. The pastor has been accused of violating Johnson’s privacy.

The Rev. Brent Waldemarsen of Harvest Community Church and 15 others met with Johnson at Melvin’s on the Lake in Spicer in January. They wanted to discuss the proposal to allow voters to choose whether to amend the state constitution about marriage. Waldemarsen had the digital recorder clipped to his back pack, behind him on the floor, and was sitting across the table from Johnson.

Johnson is a Lutheran minister as well as a state senator and senate majority leader so he wears two hats. If the pastors had met to discuss the Bible, or minister to each other’s spiritual needs, then it would have been inappropriate for Waldemarsen to tape Johnson’s remarks.

Johnson, however, met with the area ministers to talk about the proposed constitutional amendment that would ban same-sex marriages and civil unions. The state constitution is not private. That’s public.

Also, because Johnson is a state senator and senate majority leader, his comments about the constitution at a public forum should be part of the record. That’s public.

Waldemarsen chose to tape Johnson’s words because he wanted to be able to quote Johnson accurately and in context, he told the Star Tribune March 18.

Finally, Johnson talked specifically about what Chief Justice Kathleen Blatz and the other supreme court justices allegedly said. That’s public, too.

Johnson claimed they had assured him they had no intention of overturning the state statute to make gay marriage legal.

“He wanted to pacify us so we would back off on trying to push this through (an amendment limiting marriage to one man, one woman.) ...He said it with some very strong conviction... ‘I have this assurance’,” Waldemarsen said of Johnson, according to the Star Tribune.

Waldemarsen knew it was wrong for a judge to allegedly “decide” a case before it is presented in court. That is why he turned the recording over to Marriage for Minnesota, a group advocating the constitutional ban. Craig Westover of the Pioneer Press broke the story in the news media.

There was nothing confidential or remotely private about Johnson’s comments. Waldemarsen had every right to record his remarks.

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