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Minnesota filmmakers ask court to halt state control of their films

Couple, their video production company don’t want govt to force them to tell stories that violate their beliefs

Friday, Jan 13, 2017
MINNEAPOLIS – Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys representing a St. Cloud video production company and its owners filed a motion in federal court Friday to stop Minnesota officials from enforcing a state law against them while their lawsuit against the statute proceeds. The Minnesota Human Rights Act forces Carl and Angel Larsen and their company, Telescope Media Group, to use their filmmaking talents to promote same-sex marriages if they produce films that celebrate marriage between one man and one woman.

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.

“Filmmakers shouldn’t be threatened with fines and jail simply for disagreeing with the government,” said ADF Senior Counsel Jeremy Tedesco. “Every American—including creative professionals—should be free to peacefully live and work according to their faith without fear of punishment. If, for example, opponents of Donald Trump and his wife who are standing for their artistic freedom—like fashion designers who will not dress the First Lady—shouldn’t be threatened with fines and jail time, then neither should the Larsens, who simply seek to exercise these same freedoms when it comes to the subject of marriage. That’s why they are asking the court to suspend enforcement of Minnesota’s law while the suit moves forward.”

“If Minnesota has the power to dictate the content of films, it also has the power to force countless newspapers, writers, photographers, painters, and speakers to promote messages with which they disagree or to stop communicating altogether to avoid expressing government-mandated messages...,” the ADF brief in support of a preliminary injunction explains. “Importantly, since filing this lawsuit on December 6, 2016, the Larsens have received a request to produce a film celebrating a same-sex marriage in the Fall of 2017 even though they are not currently in the wedding industry. Once they start to promote their wedding services they will likely receive more such requests…. This further highlights the need for immediate relief from this Court.”

The lawsuit is known in legal circles as a “pre-enforcement challenge,” which allows citizens to challenge a law that threatens their rights before the government enforces it against them. Such lawsuits are the “bread and butter” of civil rights litigation, with organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union and Planned Parenthood routinely filing them to attack laws they oppose, sometimes even prior to the effective dates of those laws.
Specifically, 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.

Renee Carlson, one of more than 3,100 private attorneys allied with ADF, is serving as local counsel in the case for the Larsens and Telescope Media Group.
  • Pronunciation guide: Tedesco (Teh-DESS’-koh)

Alliance Defending Freedom is an alliance-building, non-profit legal organization that advocates for the right of people to freely live out their faith.
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