ST. LOUIS – Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys representing a pair of Minnesota filmmakers filed their opening brief on appeal Friday in a lawsuit challenging a state law that allows the government to control the stories they tell. The law allows Minnesota to punish the Larsens with fines and jail time if they create wedding films consistent with their faith while declining to create wedding films promoting contrary views.
Carl and Angel Larsen and the company they own, Telescope Media Group, asked a federal district court for an injunction that would suspend enforcement of the law against them while their case proceeds. The court denied that request and instead ruled in favor of the state’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit, which means the Larsens have to continue censoring their own speech about marriage to avoid violating the law. The Larsens then appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit and are asking it to reinstate their lawsuit.
“The government shouldn’t threaten artists with fines and jail simply for living in accordance with their beliefs in the artistic marketplace,” said ADF Senior Counsel Jeremy Tedesco. “Americans should have the freedom to disagree on significant matters of conscience, which is why everyone, regardless of their view of marriage, should support the Larsens. Government is supposed to be freedom’s greatest protector, not its greatest threat. That’s why we are asking the 8th Circuit to reverse the district court’s decision.”
Specifically, the lawsuit, Telescope Media Group v. Lindsey, challenges portions of Minnesota Statutes Chapter 363. The Minnesota Department of Human Rights has construed that law to force creative professionals like the Larsens to promote objectionable messages even though they gladly serve everyone and decide what stories to tell based on the story’s message, not any client’s personal characteristics.
Minnesota Department of Human Rights officials have repeatedly stated that private businesses such as the Larsens’ violate the law if they decline to create expression promoting same-sex weddings. Penalties for violation include payment of a civil penalty to the state; triple compensatory damages; punitive damages of up to $25,000; a criminal penalty of up to $1,000; and even up to 90 days in jail.
“The Larsens will create films for anyone. They just cannot create films promoting every message,” the opening brief explains. “Their decision turns on what a film promotes, never who requests it. This shows the Larsens are no different from ‘a ghost-writer’ who declines to ‘write a book [concerning a person’s protected status] when the writer disagrees with the message the book would convey….’ According to the district court, that would be objecting to ‘the message of the book, not…the sexual orientation of the customer….’ Yet it refused to accept this same distinction for the Larsens.”
Renee Carlson, one of more than 3,200 private attorneys allied with ADF, is serving as local counsel in the case for the Larsens and Telescope Media Group.
- Pronunciation guide: Tedesco Teh-DESS’-koh)
Alliance Defending Freedom is an alliance-building, non-profit legal organization that advocates for the right of people to freely live out their faith.
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