• Chalk One Up for the Liberty-Lovers: Christian Filmmakers Win Constitutional Battle

    Surge Summary: A group of Minnesota filmmakers win a battle for Free Speech and Religious Liberty rights against a State agency.

    In the untiring battle to preserve religious freedom in America – guaranteed by the nation’s Constitution, specifically, the First Amendment — there are ups and downs, victories and setbacks. Below, a recent example of the former via Tyler O’Neil/PJ Media

    On Friday, the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that a lower court had wrongly dismissed a case involving free speech and religious freedom. Minnesota filmmakers Carl and Angel Larsen, owners of Telescope Media Group, gladly serve all people but desire to make wedding videos that only include opposite-sex couples. Minnesota’s Department of Human Rights ruled that this would constitute discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Penalties for violating the law include a civil penalty, triple compensatory damages, punitive damages of up to $25,000, a criminal penalty of up to $1,000, and up to 90 days in jail.

    Potentially three months in the pokey for … turning down a job for conscience reasons. In America. Let that sink it a moment.

    The Larsens sued and requested a preliminary injunction to prevent Minnesota from enforcing the law against them until their case could be decided. A lower court rejected the lawsuit and the request for an injunction, but the 8th Circuit remanded the case, insisting that the Larsens have a strong free speech and religious freedom claim and that they likely deserve an injunction.

    “This is a significant win. The government shouldn’t threaten filmmakers with fines and jail time to force them to create films that violate their beliefs,” Jeremy Tedesco, senior counsel at Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), the law firm representing the Larsens, said in a statement. Tedesco argued for the Larsens before the 8th Circuit last October.

    “Carl and Angel work with all people; they just don’t create films promoting all messages,” Tedesco explained. “That’s why we’re pleased that the 8th Circuit has affirmed that the Larsens’ films are fully protected speech and that the state lacks a compelling interest to force them to express messages through their films that violate their deeply held convictions. All creative professionals should be free to create art consistent with their convictions without the threat of government punishment.”

    Exhibiting the audacity to try to live out a consistent Christian ethic, the Larsen’s business declines producing films that, according to their faith convictions, “contradict biblical truth; promote sexual immorality; support the destruction of unborn children; promote racism or racial division; incite violence; degrade women; or promote any conception of marriage other than as a lifelong institution between one man and one woman.”

    Some would call that choosing to follow Jesus – which apparently has become scandalous in twenty-first-century America.

    It seems Minnesota deemed the Larsen’s philosophy of business in conflict with the State’s non-discrimination law. If Telescope Media makes wedding videos? Well, then, it must make the same-sex variety as well as conventional ones. Yet, apparently, this liberty-quashing absurdity wasn’t enough for the Minnesota’s Human Rights Department which, supplementarily, mandated the Larsens must depict same-sex and opposite-sex weddings in equally favorable terms.

    The Larsens, sensibly, took issue with this administrative bullying, referring to something called the First Amendment – you know, rights of free speech, religious freedom, freedom of association, and more. The district court had shot down the Larsens’ argument, but in Telescope Media Group v. Lucero the 8th Circuit, although ruling against many of the Larsens’ claims, ratified their free speech and religious freedom arguments.

    “Carl and Angel Larsen wish to make wedding videos. Can Minnesota require them to produce videos of same-sex weddings, even if the message would conflict with their own beliefs? The district court concluded that it could and dismissed the Larsens’ constitutional challenge to Minnesota’s antidiscrimination law. Because the First Amendment allows the Larsens to choose when to speak and what to say, we reverse the dismissal of two of their claims and remand with instructions to consider whether they are entitled to a preliminary injunction,” the 8th Circuit ruled.

    Thankfully, the court connected the problematic anti-constitutional dots: if Minnesota could force the Larsens to make videos honoring same-sex weddings,

    “there is no reason it would have to stop with the Larsens. In theory, it could use the MHRA to require a Muslim tattoo artist to inscribe ‘My religion is the only true religion’ on the body of a Christian if he or she would do the same for a fellow Muslim, or it could demand that an atheist musician perform at an evangelical church service.”

    Plainly, it’s difficult imagining any court in the United States countenancing those kinds of rulings. So why should government treatment of devout Christian entrepreneurs be any different?

    “In fact, if Minnesota were to do what other jurisdictions have done and declare political affiliation or ideology to be a protected characteristic, then it could force a Democratic speechwriter to provide the same services to a Republican, or it could require a professional entertainer to perform at rallies for both the Republican and Democratic candidates for the same office,” the court added. This is no idle warning.

    Following release of the bench’s statement, Carl Larsen’s comments were as eloquent and gracious as one would hope from someone professing commitment to Jesus.

    “Angel and I serve everyone. We just can’t produce films promoting every message. … We are thankful the court recognized that government officials can’t force religious believers to violate their beliefs to pursue their passion. This is a win for everyone, regardless of your beliefs.”

    Contra the typical LGBT framing of things, a refusal to endorse a same-sex union does not automatically equal discrimination against a person because of his her “sexual orientation”. Americans still enjoy the free speech right not to be compelled to participate in an event that offends their beliefs.

    This is quite different from posting a “no gays allowed” sign on a business — that would be the kind of discrimination illegal in many states.

    Meanwhile, Minnesota’s government came close to strong-arming the Larson’s to speak in favor of same-sex marriage. That this matter even got as far along in our juridical system as it did should spark concern to anyone who cares about the Constitution, religion or freedom.

    The 8th Circuit rightly noted that this likely violates the First Amendment; but the Larsens’ battle is far from over.

    Image: Creative Commons; CC By-SA 2.0; https://www.flickr.com/photos/elpadawan/3026423672/

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