Christian videographers tell appeals court: Refusing to film gay ‘wedding’ is not akin to racism
MINNESOTA, October 22, 2018 (LifeSiteNews) – Amid the ongoing national battle against forces seeking to diminish religious liberty while protecting and promoting LGBT ideology, a pair of midwest videographers have challenged a lower court’s ruling that turning away gay and lesbian couples is “conduct akin to a ‘White Applicants Only’ sign.”
Carl and Angel Larsen, owners of Telescope Media Group––a business with a clearly stated Christian mission––had wanted to expand their company’s services to include wedding videography. But before doing so, they wanted to make sure they would not be placing their livelihood in jeopardy if they chose not to record same-sex “marriage” celebrations.
Same-sex ‘marriage’ was legalized in the Gopher State in 2013.
“When I heard about the law that was passed in Minnesota, I was deeply concerned because I want to be able to tell stories that are consistent with the mission of our business,” Carl Larsen explained. “I want to tell stories that are going to matter for eternity. I want to tell marriage stories. I want to tell stories about the glory of God in marriage. Because not many people are.”
The Minnesota Human Rights Department (MHRA) had made it clear that state law requires business owners like the Larsens to create films celebrating same-sex “marriages” if they also create films celebrating marriages between a man and a woman. ‘Gay marriage’ is something that is at odds with the Larsons’ core beliefs as Christians, and so they can’t in good conscience employ their talents to tell those types of stories.
MHRA has also made it clear that it intends to aggressively enforce the law, which includes penalties of up to $25,000 and 90 days in jail.
The case is similar to that of Masterpiece Cakeshop, in which a Colorado baker felt he couldn’t use his artistic talent to create a celebratory cake for a ‘gay wedding.’ Earlier this year, that case made its way to the United States Supreme Court where baker Jack Phillips was ultimately vindicated.
While the Masterpiece Cakeshop ruling represents an important religious liberty victory for business owners, some states like Minnesota are still trying, in essence, to compel the speech of Christian citizens like the Larsens. As such, the Larsen’s case is viewed as an important sequel to the Masterpiece Cakeshop case, which will help establish the limits of government coercion.
In November 2016, the Larsens filed their preemptive lawsuit challenging the state’s law, seeking a preliminary injunction and hoping to avoid future legal action by the state.
A month later, a federal judge shot down their “pre-enforcement challenge” to Minnesota’s law that denies the right of Christian businesses and professionals to decline providing wedding services to gay couples.
“A government that tells you what you can’t say is bad enough. But a government which tells you what you must say is even worse,” said John Tedesco, the lead attorney who represented the Larsens. “You can’t force people to say things that violate their beliefs.”
Chief District Judge John Tunheim disagreed with that principle in his lengthy December 2016, 63-page ruling.
As a result, the Larsens’ dreams of expanding their videography business to include weddings were dashed, because doing so would expose them to too much legal risk.
Now, two years later, their expansion plans remain on hold.
“This case is a case that squarely presents the question that has been bedeviling courts and governments about how far can the government go when it comes to marriage,” attorney Tedesco told reporters after arguing on behalf of the Larsens before a three judge panel from the Eighth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. “Can they force people to promote ideas about marriage that violate their beliefs?”
Tedesco is a member of the Alliance Defending Freedom, the attorney organization which successfully represented Jack Phillips, owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop, before the U.S. Supreme Court.
Watch the press conference video:
“Everyone loses when the government has the power to coerce us through fines and jail time to express ideas that violate our core convictions,” said Tedesco. “The Supreme Court just last term said that that kind of compulsion is always demeaning to the speaker.”
“And so this is a case that involves very important principles of First Amendment jurisprudence, of First Amendment free speech rights,” added the ADF attorney. “Everybody should want Carl and Angel to win, because if they win, we all win.”
The three judge panel will announce its decision at an undetermined later date.