Minnesota filmmakers’ lawsuit puts freedom in focus
MINNEAPOLIS – Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys representing a St. Cloud video production company and its owners filed suit against Minnesota state officials in federal court Tuesday. The lawsuit challenges a state law that forces Carl and Angel Larsen and their company, Telescope Media Group, to use their filmmaking talents to promote same-sex marriages if they produce films that celebrate marriage between one man and one woman.
Minnesota Department of Human Rights officials have repeatedly stated that private businesses such as the Larsens’ violate the Minnesota Human Rights Act if they decline to create expression promoting same-sex weddings. Penalties for violating the law 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.
“Filmmakers shouldn’t be threatened with fines and jail simply for disagreeing with the government,” said ADF Senior Counsel Jeremy Tedesco. “Every American—including creative professionals—should be free to peacefully live and work according to their faith without fear of punishment. For example, a fashion designer recently cited her ‘artistic freedom’ as a ‘family-owned company’ to announce that she won’t design clothes for Melania Trump because she doesn’t want to use her company and creative talents to promote political views she disagrees with. Even though the law in D.C. prohibits ‘political affiliation’ discrimination, do any of us really think the designer should be threatened with fines and jail time? The Larsens simply seek to exercise these same freedoms, and that’s why they filed this lawsuit to challenge Minnesota’s law.”
The lawsuit is known in legal circles as a "pre-enforcement challenge," which allows citizens to challenge a law that threatens their rights before the government enforces it against them. Such lawsuits are the “bread and butter” of civil rights litigation, with organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union and Planned Parenthood routinely filing them to attack laws they oppose, sometimes even prior to the effective dates of those laws.
The complaint in Telescope Media Group v. Lindsey, which ADF attorneys filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota, explains how the state law runs afoul of First and 14th amendments to the U.S. Constitution. Specifically, the suit challenges portions of Minnesota Statutes Chapter 363, the Minnesota Human Rights Act. 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.
Nonetheless, when it comes to marriage, state officials are wrongly equating free expression with sexual orientation discrimination. As MDHR states on its website, “The law does not exempt individuals, businesses, nonprofits, or the secular business activities of religious entities from non-discrimination laws based on religious beliefs regarding same-sex marriage. Therefore, a business that provides wedding services such as cake decorating, wedding planning or catering services may not deny services to a same-sex couple based on their sexual orientation. To do so would violate protections for sexual orientation laid out in the Minnesota Human Rights Act.”
“Because the Larsens believe that every human is made in the image of God and is loved by God, they gladly work with all people—regardless of their race, sexual orientation, sex, religious beliefs, or any other classification…,” the ADF complaint explains. “The Larsens simply desire to use their unique storytelling and promotional talents to convey messages that promote aspects of their sincerely-held religious beliefs, or that at least are not inconsistent with them. It is standard practice for the owners of video and film production companies to decline to produce videos that contain or promote messages that the owners do not want to support or that violate or compromise their beliefs in some way.”
“Among other things, the Larsens will decline any request to design and create media productions that: 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,” the complaint continues, explaining that, in such cases, the Larsens “endeavor to refer the prospective client to another filmmaker who can assist them.”
“The Larsens can’t publicly depict stories about the exclusive benefits of marriages between one man and one woman because Minnesota officials have categorically stated that conducting business in this way would violate the law,” said ADF Legal Counsel Caleb Dalton. “The problem with this is that the government must allow artists the freedom to make personal decisions about what content they will create and what content they won’t create. We are asking the court to order state officials to respect the artistic freedom of the Larsens and, consequently, other Minnesotans like them, regardless of their viewpoint or religious beliefs.”
Renee Carlson, one of more than 3,100 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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