The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals recently handed two Minnesota filmmakers a massive win for free speech and religious freedom. The Court ruled that these two filmmakers did not have to choose between operating their business and obeying their faith. 

Carl and Angel Larsen own Telescope Media Group. Their company is a “video production company that exists to tell great stories that honor God.” Carl Larsen said in an interview, “I want to tell stories that are going to matter for eternity. I want to tell marriage stories. I want to tell stories about the glory of God in marriage because not many people are.” 

According to a press release from the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), a Minnesota law would have forced the Larsens to “use their filmmaking talents to promote same-sex marriages if they produce films that celebrate marriage between one man and one woman.” If the Larsens promoted traditional marriage, they would have had to promote same-sex marriage. Because of this, the couple sued the Minnesota Department of Human Rights, and the Minnesota Attorney General with help from ADF, but a district court dismissed their complaint. Now, the Eighth Circuit has reversed that decision, “because the First Amendment allows the Larsens to choose when to speak and what to say.”

In other words, the Eighth Circuit ruled that forcing the Larsens to portray a same-sex wedding and to do so in a positive light would infringe upon their First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and freedom of religion.

The opposing side argued that filmmaking is not speech. The Court held otherwise. “The Larsens’ videos are a form of speech that is entitled to First Amendment protection.”

If the Eighth Circuit had ruled the opposite way and said that the Larsens had to film and promote same-sex marriages, they would have been subject to severe penalties. These would have included, “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.” It’s extremely intolerant of the state of Minnesota to attempt to fine and imprison a couple simply because they won’t violate their deeply held religious beliefs. James Madison presciently wrote the following: “More sparingly should this praise be allowed to a government, where a man’s religious rights are violated by penalties, or fettered by tests, or taxed by a hierarchy. Conscience is the most sacred of all property.”

In addition, this is an important ruling because it address what happens when the First Amendment and nondiscrimination laws conflict. David French wrote in National Review, “One of the key constitutional questions of our time is whether the First Amendment will retain its supremacy and potency even as nondiscrimination rules and regulations expand in scope and reach.” Thankfully, the Court considered that question and ruled in the affirmative.

It’s crucial to note that the Larsens serve everybody. According to ADF, “Carl and Angel work with all people; they just don’t create films promoting all messages.” The Larsens do not discriminate on the basis of their customer’s sexual orientation. However, the Larsens do decide which messages they can and cannot create in accordance with their faith.

Importantly, if the Eighth Circuit had ruled against the Larsens, it could have unleashed a Pandora’s Box of ugly consequences. ADF believes this could have resulted in a Democratic speechwriter being punished “for not writing speeches promoting the Republican Party.” Indeed, The Daily Citizen reported on a similar instance last month. Also, “a gay filmmaker [could be fined or imprisoned] for not creating a film promoting a church’s views on marriage.” Truly, the freedom of speech protects everyone, whether they are on the Left or the Right.

Thankfully, the Eighth Circuit upheld the Larsens right to speak freely and to exercise their religion without infringement so they can continue to do what they love and promote marriage as they see fit. As Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas observed in his concurrence in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, “The First Amendment gives individuals the right to disagree about the correctness of Obergefell and the morality of same-sex marriage.”

Photo from Alliance Defending Freedom