A mom-and-pop film company is suing the State of Minnesota over a law that would force the business to create films that violate the owners’ biblical convictions about marriage. The pre-enforcement complaint filed Dec. 6 in federal court is another preemptive strike in a legal battle against so-called anti-discrimination laws that fail to recognize people who operate their businesses according to the tenets of their faith.
Carl and Angel Larsen, founders and owners of Telescope Media Group in St. Cloud, Minn., want to expand their film-making business to include wedding videos. And they want to tell those stories on their own terms, as Christian business owners.
“I want to tell stories that matter for eternity,” Carl Larsen said in an Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) video. “I want to tell marriage stories. I want to tell stories about the glory of God in marriage because not many people are.”
But Minnesota law requires business owners to supply the same services for same-sex couples and heterosexual couples—or face fines and possible jail time. Jeremy Tedesco, ADF senior counsel, told me the state’s Human Rights Commission actively pursued a claim against the owners of a wedding venue for refusing to host a same-sex wedding. He said the commission sent “testers” to the venue to elicit a refusal, which prompted a complaint. Settling the case arising from that complaint cost the venue owners thousands of dollars in fines, he said.
“The Larsens see what’s going on,” Tedesco told me. “It’s no secret the government is proactively enforcing these laws. This ups the ante for the Larsens.”
The 2013 Minnesota marriage law and 1993 sexual orientation non-discrimination law, as in other states, compel people in the creative business industry to convey a message—with words or creative design—that violates their faith convictions, Tedesco said. The state offers no exemptions for individuals, businesses, nonprofits, or the secular business activities of religious entities.
Violations could include civil penalties; 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, according to ADF.
Tedesco said those pushing conformity to the current “culturally imperative message” that Christian views of marriage are rooted in discrimination and bigotry—and should be punished—ignore the consequences of a reverse paradigm. He noted the case of fashion designer Sophie Theallet, who said she would not create clothing for incoming first lady Melania Trump because she disagrees with the political views of her husband, President-elect Donald Trump.
“As an independent fashion brand, we consider our voice an expression of our artistic and philosophical ideas,” Theallet wrote in a letter to other creative designers.
Political viewpoint discrimination is a violation of Washington, D.C., law. So, Tedesco asked, should Theallet be sued and forced to create a wardrobe for Melania Trump in violation of her conscience?
No, Tedesco said, noting U.S. Supreme Court precedent supports both Theallet and the Larsens. In West Virginia v. Barnette, the high court ruled Jehovah’s Witnesses could not be compelled to recite the Pledge of Allegiance in public school classrooms.
“We’re all better for that ruling,” Tedesco said. “You have to have space to exercise your faith publicly or you don’t have religious freedom.”
The Larsens are unapologetically open about their faith, stating on their company’s website that it “exists to glorify God through top-quality media production.”
“I believe all of us want to be part of the big story,” Carl Larsen said in the video. “Storytelling, as a professional, taps on that reality of the human heart. And so I get to tell stories through my work. It’s the greatest job ever.”
— by Bonnie Pritchett