Federal Court Says Minnesota Can’t Restrict Christian Videos

Warren Albrecht | @drw_albrecht

On August 23, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated a lawsuit from a Minnesota Christian couple who create different topic videos and wanted to begin making wedding videos. Carl and Angel Larsen sued Rebecca Lucero, Commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Human Rights and Keith Ellison, Attorney General of Minnesota in an attempt to prevent lawsuits against themselves for not filming same-sex weddings.

From the Eighth Circuit Court discussing the Couple and their company, Telescope Media Group,

[The Larsens] use their “unique skill[s] to identify and tell compelling stories through video,” including commercials, short films, and live-event productions. They exercise creative control over the videos they produce and make “editorial judgments” about “what events to take on, what video content to use, what audio content to use, what text to use . . . , the order in which to present content, [and] whether to use voiceovers.”
..the Larsens decline any requests for their services that conflict with their religious beliefs. 

The Preemptive Challenge for Christian Videos

The Alliance Defending Freedom argued on behalf of the Larsen’s in October in front of the U.S. District Court for Minnesota. The couple filed a pre-enforcement challenge against the state of Minnesota in about 2016 against sections of the Minnesota Human Rights Act (MHRA). This was filed against the Act before any plaintiff could file against them. This is not unique and many lawsuits from Planned Parenthood and the ACLU are pre-enforcement type lawsuits.

Carl Larsen wrote an op-ed piece for the Minneapolis Star Tribune. In that op-ed, he explains a bit of their story.

My wife, Angel, and I are the owners of Telescope Media Group, a video production company that exists to glorify God through top-quality media production.
Over the last eight years, we’ve created content around the globe. Our skills are broad, and our clients are varied. But one thing is consistent: Whether we’re directing live events, running cameras, editing, or writing a script, we are in the business of telling great stories that honor God and amaze our clients.
Is the state also going to start requiring Muslim singers to perform Christian hymns? Democratic speechwriters, to work up to talking points for Republican candidates? Or creatives who script Planned Parenthood ads to make “equal time” commercials for the March for Life?

Minnesota Only Allows Christian Not-For-Profit Videos

Minnesota law allows for nonprofit religious organizations (Churches, Synagogues, Mosques) to be exempt from same-sex marriage ceremonies under 517.18. But at the Minnesota Department of Human rights website, it does specifically point to any religious business operating in the secular for-profit world,

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. The individuals denied services could file a claim with the Minnesota Department of Human Rights against the entity that discriminated against them.

The state of Minnesota does see religion as a protected class.  But only if Christians who say, make videos or cakes, refuse to make a living at it. The Eighth Circuit Court decision goes through Minnesota law that pertains to for-profit and non-profits in detail.

The Court’s Dissent

John Tunheim, Chief Judge of the U.S. District Court for Minnesota, originally dismissed this case, linking it to the Larsen’s posting a “White Applicants Only” sign. Employment discrimination law and public accommodation laws do require a service to be provided. The Eighth Court decided it can not creep into the realm of compulsion speech.

Minnesota and the Court’s dissent are telling for-profit Christian businesses what they can produce in the market place. Either make it our way or do not join the secular market place. It is not a free market. The Minnesota government controls the market.

The Issue Beyond Minnesota’s Definition of Human Rights

The Court’s dissent gives credence to the religious views of the Larsen’s. But in the for-profit market place, their religious views have no standing. The Court’s dissent itself refers to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, protecting people based on race, color, religion and national origin. The Court’s dissenting judge guides what business’s production should look like,

For example, a bakery that does not make cakes does not violate the MHRA by declining to bake a wedding cake for a same-sex couple, because it is not treating that couple differently than it would anyone else.

Can a government or one protected class block another protected class from participating in the for-profit market place? Can one protected class compel another into creating content or speech the later does not desire to convey? Does Minnesota rank one protected class higher than another?

Critics of Christian businesses, including Christian bakers, hide the fact these are just not any cakes which a business may make or be restricted from making a profit on. It is a particular cake for a particular reason. Every Christian business has started, let me make this product (cake or video) for any other reason.

Marriage Has Led Courts to Quell Christian Free Speech

Marriage as a religious ceremony goes back hundreds of years, but today is followed by fewer in number. It is only a ceremony for a certificate.

In United States v Windsor,  Edith Windsor inherited the estate of Thea Spyer, her same-sex partner. Because the federal government did not recognize their union under The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), Windsor was made to pay $363,053 in federal taxes. The low-tax, marriage defending, GOP brought down a part of the DOMA because of forcing someone to pay high taxes. Obergefell v. Hodges put the nail in DOMA’s coffin by striking sections of DOMA which allowed one state from denying marriages from other states,  Therefore, denying a citizen’s interstate tax benefits.

Using taxes to create the situation that persons would desire to get married and stay married because of tax benefits is foolish and has not been proven. This is bad behavioral economics. Since 1990, the marriage rate declined to a point where is stabilized in 2009 and remained low.

Are those few who view marriage from a point described by the Eighth Court’s dissent as, “sincere views about marriage rooted in their deeply held religious beliefs…who base their beliefs on the Bible”, protected enough to be defended for their religious belief under the Civil Rights Act?

Not the End

From the Eighth Court,

Indeed, if Minnesota were correct, 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 performs at an evangelical church service. In fact, if Minnesota was 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 Larsen’s still have a long way to go through Minnesota’s and the United States’ court system. Unfortunately, these types of lawsuits will continue. Why? Because many seem to think “Liberty” is only real if 5 out of 9 people in this country say so. Or say so in the way they desire.

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