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Filmmakers facing threat of fines and jail time, appeal to court

Under threat of steep fines and up to 90 days in jail, two filmmakers will be in court Oct. 15 seeking to stop Minnesota from forcing them to produce and create custom films expressing messages that contradict their core beliefs.

Filmmakers Carl and Angel Larsen, owners of Telescope Media Group’s suit challenges the Minnesota law because it illegally controls artistic expression—violating the Larsens’ freedom to choose which messages they will express, and refrain from expressing, through their films.

The Larsens intend to enter the wedding industry, but according to Minnesota officials, the state’s public-accommodation law would mandate that, if the couple creates films celebrating their religious beliefs about marriage, they must also create films about marriage that violate their beliefs, including films promoting same-sex marriages.

“The government shouldn’t threaten filmmakers with fines and jail time to force them to create films that violate their beliefs,” said Alliance Defending Freedom Senior Counsel Jeremy Tedesco.

“Carl and Angel are storytellers—they script, stage, conduct interviews, capture footage, select music, edit and more—all to tell compelling stories through film that promote their religious beliefs,” said Tedesco.

“The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 7-2 in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission that the government must respect the belief—held by countless Americans from all walks of life—that marriage is between one man and one woman. The 8th Circuit should reinstate the Larsens’ lawsuit and order the state to stop forcing the Larsens to speak messages about marriage that violate their beliefs,” Tedesco continued.

In 2017, a lower court ruled in favor of Minnesota’s motion to dismiss the Larsens’ lawsuit, which means the filmmakers must continue censoring their own speech about marriage to avoid the criminal penalties Minnesota is threatening to enforce against them. The Larsens then appealed to the 8th Circuit, asking it to reinstate their lawsuit. The 8th Circuit received several friend-of-the-court briefs, including one filed by 10 states, supporting the artistic freedom of the Minnesota filmmakers.

The lawsuit, Telescope Media Group v. Lindsey, challenges portions of Minnesota Statutes Chapter 363A. Minnesota 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 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.

— CNJ staff report

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