A split decision of the Eighth Circuit Court on Friday cleared the way Friday for two “Christian” videographers to sue the state of Minnesota over the right to refuse to film same-sex weddings, arguing that the videos are a form of speech subject to First Amendment protections.
Carl and Angel Larsen, who run a Christian videography business called Telescope Media Group, filed a federal suit in 2016 against Minnesota’s human rights commissioner, saying the state’s public accommodation law could hit them with steep fines or jail time if they offered services promoting only their vision of marriage.
U.S. District Judge John Tunheim in Minneapolis originally dismissed their case after finding that their professional policy of promoting marriage as a bond between one man and one woman was akin to posting a sign that said “white applicants only.”
Reversing the previous ruling Friday, a divided three-judge panel of the Eighth Circuit emphasized that the Larsens have a First Amendment right “to choose when to speak and what to say.”
“And as compelling as the interest in preventing discriminatory conduct may be, speech is treated differently under the First Amendment.”
Stras cited the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1995 landmark decision in Hurley vs. Irish American Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Group of Boston, which held that private organizations, even if they were planning on and had permits for a public demonstration, were permitted to exclude groups if those groups presented a message contrary to the one the organizing group wanted to convey.
Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison blasted the holding.
“This split decision today marks a shocking reversal of Minnesota’s evolution toward equality for LGBTQ people — with consequences for the entire country,” Ellison said in a statement. “A ruling that lets a business discriminate against LGBTQ folks today would let it discriminate on the basis of religion, race, gender, ability, or any other category it chooses tomorrow. The decision smacks of other dark moments in our nation’s history when courts have infamously upheld discrimination.”
The LGBT hate group Alliance Defending Freedom, which is representing the bigoted couple, lauded the decision.
“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,” ADF senior counsel Jeremy Tedesco said in a statement. We’re pleased that the 8th Circuit has affirmed that the Larsens’ films are fully protected speech and that the state lacks a compelling interest to force them to express messages through their films that violate their deeply held convictions.”
U.S. Circuit Judge Jane Kelley wrote in dissent Friday that her colleagues’ ruling marks the first time a court has “afforded ‘affirmative constitutional protections to private discrimination.”
While the First Amendment does protect religious and philosophical objections to same-sex marriage, Kelley said that right does not entitle business owners to deny protected personals equal access to goods and services.