Appeals Court Rules State Violated Christian Filmmakers’ Religious Liberty

A federal appeals court ruled 2-1 Friday in favor of Christian filmmakers Carl and Angel Larsen, who own Telescope Media Group in St. Cloud, Minnesota.

In December 2016, Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) filed a lawsuit on behalf of the Larsens to combat a state law that Minnesota officials claim requires the couple to “produce both opposite-sex and same-sex videos, or none at all.”

“When I heard about the law that was passed in Minnesota, I was deeply concerned,” said Carl Larsen. “I want to be able to tell stories that are consistent with the mission of our business. I want to tell stories about the glory of God in marriage … stories that are going to matter for eternity.”

The Larsens state that they are videographers who create “commercials, short films and live-event productions.” They say they will work with anyone of any race, sex, sexual orientation or religion, but they refuse to produce videos that advance viewpoints contrary to their Biblical beliefs.

In 2017, a lower court dismissed the couple’s case and mandated that they offer their filmmaking services to same-sex weddings or close that part of their business.

According to ADF, if the Larsens refused to comply, they could have faced punitive damages of up to $25,000, a criminal penalty of up to $1,000 and up to 90 days in jail.

On Friday, a three-judge panel of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the lower court’s decision. The panel sent the case back to the lower court with instructions to consider a preliminary injunction that would allow the Larsens to operate their business without fear of violating Minnesota’s Human Rights Act.

In his opinion, Judge David Stras wrote that the Larsens’ wedding videos are a “form of speech that is entitled to First Amendment protection.”

“Even antidiscrimination laws, as critically important as they are, must yield to the Constitution,” he added. “… It is a ‘bedrock principle … that the government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable.’”

ADF Senior Counsel Jeremy Tedesco said: “This is a significant win. The government shouldn’t threaten filmmakers with fines and jail time to force them to create films that violate their beliefs. Carl and Angel work with all people; they just don’t create films promoting all messages. All creative professionals should be free to create art consistent with their convictions without the threat of government punishment.”

“We are thankful the court recognized that government officials can’t force religious believers to violate their beliefs to pursue their passion,” said Larsen. “This is a win for everyone, regardless of your beliefs.”

Photo: Alliance Defending Freedom