The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit has received several friend-of-the-court briefs, including one filed by Alabama, Arkansas, Kansas, Louisiana, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas, and West Virginia, in support of the artistic freedom of a pair of Minnesota filmmakers. The filmmakers’ lawsuit, filed through Arizona-based Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys, challenges a state law that allows the government to control the stories they tell.
The law allows Minnesota to punish them with fines and jail time if they create wedding films consistent with their faith while declining to create wedding films promoting contrary views.
Carl and Angel Larsen and the company they own, Telescope Media Group, asked a federal district court for an injunction that would suspend enforcement of the law against them while their case proceeds. The court denied that request and instead ruled in favor of the state’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit, which means the Larsens have to continue censoring their own speech about marriage to avoid violating the law. The Larsens then appealed to the 8th Circuit and are asking it to reinstate their lawsuit.
“As those who filed briefs in support of the Larsens agree, the government shouldn’t threaten artists with fines and jail simply for living in accordance with their beliefs in the marketplace,” said ADF Senior Counsel Jeremy Tedesco. “Americans should have the freedom to disagree on significant matters of conscience, which is why everyone, regardless of their view of marriage, should support the Larsens. Government is supposed to be freedom’s greatest protector, not its greatest threat.”
“Utilizing the weight of government power to order individuals to speak in a manner that violates their conscience is fundamentally at odds with the freedom of expression and tolerance for a diversity of viewpoints that this Nation has long enjoyed and promoted…,” explains the brief that the states of Alabama, Arkansas, Kansas, Louisiana, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas, and West Virginia filed with the court. “The government need not compel its citizenry to express or facilitate messages that violate the conscience of artistic professionals.”
“The government’s interest in preventing discrimination cannot justify restricting Telescope Media’s First Amendment rights,” adds a brief filed by Eugene Volokh of the UCLA School of Law and attorney John Whitehead on behalf of The Cato Institute and 11 legal scholars. “Telescope Media is not discriminating based on the sexual orientation of any customer. Rather, its owners are choosing which messages they film and promote.”
The lawsuit, Telescope Media Group v. Lindsey, challenges portions of Minnesota Statutes Chapter 363. The Minnesota Department of Human Rights 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 Department of Human Rights 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.