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Couple fights to limit videos to biblical marriage

MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. (BP) — Christian filmmakers Carl and Angel Larsen are asking a district court to reinstate their challenge to a Minnesota law that could force them to produce media supporting same-sex marriage.

The U.S. District Court in Minnesota dismissed the couple’s lawsuit on Sept. 20 against the state over portions of the Minnesota Human Rights Act (MHRA), which bans sexual orientation discrimination in public accommodations and contracting.

The St. Cloud, Minn., couple would like to expand their videography business, Telescope Media Group, to include wedding videos for public clients. But the business owners believe the law would prevent them from limiting their services to the expression of biblical marriage between a man and a woman, their attorneys at Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) contend in the legal challenge launched in 2016. The Minnesota law violates the couple’s First and Fourteenth Amendment rights, including the freedoms of religious exercise and speech, the ADF said.

Though they were never charged with a crime under MHRA, the Larsens are pursuing a “pre-enforcement” lawsuit to ensure a clear legal route for their business pursuits, ADF senior counsel Jeremy Tedesco said in a video posted at adfmedia.org.

“The Larsens know that if they want to get into the wedding industry, they’re immediately going to be flouting the law. And so rather than taking the risk of violating the law, knowing that the state of Minnesota has emphatically declared that what they want to do violates the law, they’ve chosen the option of filing a pre-enforcement challenge to that law,” Tedesco said. The Larsens want to “have their rights declared before they even enter the industry, so they know whether they have the constitutional right to do what they want to do, or whether they do not.”

The district court dismissed the Larsens’ case at the request of Commissioner Kevin Lindsey of the Minnesota Department of Human Rights and Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson, defendants in the case.

“The day is gone when [courts] use the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to strike down state laws, regulatory of business and industrial conditions, because they may be unwise, improvident, or out of harmony with a particular school of thought,” the district court said in dismissing the suit. “Because the Larsens have failed to plead the violation of a fundamental right, and because their First Amendment arguments are not cognizable under the rubric of substantive due process, the Larsens’ substantive due process claim fails as a matter of law.”

In announcing the appeal, Tedesco said MHRA censors the Larsens and demands “that they tell stories in film that violate their deepest convictions.” MHRA violations are punishable by a civil penalty payable to the state, triple compensatory damages, punitive damages of up to $25,000, a criminal penalty of up to $1,000 and up to 90 days in jail.

“Tolerance is a two-way street,” Tedesco said. “Creative professionals who engage in the expression of ideas shouldn’t be threatened with fines and jail simply for having a particular point of view about marriage that the government may not favor.”

The Larsens created their business “to glorify God through top quality media production,” Carl Larsen said at adfmedia.org. “I want to tell stories about the glory of God in marriage, because not many people are.”

The Larsens have been married 14 years and parent eight children, including two adoptees and a foster child. Angel Larsen said she feels obligated to fight for the religious freedom of her children.

“I feel that Telescope Media Group was created for such a time as this, and I never anticipated it to come to this point,” she said, “but … I want to help my children preserve their religious freedom. And if I don’t do something now, I’ll look back and totally regret it.”