My wife, Angel, and I co-own Telescope Media Group, a small film production company in St. Cloud. We get to tell stories for a living. It fires us up. It pays the bills. But it is also a way we serve God.
Not only are we natural storytellers, we also believe that beautifully told stories point to a common story we all share — how God created us and loves us. In this way, our stories are part of a larger story. And that’s why our company exists — to point to that larger story that glorifies God.
This conviction — this deeply held belief about our Creator and his vision for the world — is why we challenged a Minnesota law that would force us to tell stories and celebrate messages that contradict our beliefs. Because of these religious beliefs, there are a lot of stories we love to tell. But there are some stories we just can’t tell.
We can’t tell stories demeaning others or promoting racism, or stories celebrating infidelity or sexual abuse. We also can’t tell stories promoting a view of marriage that contradicts our religious beliefs, such as stories celebrating same-sex marriage.
But according to Minnesota officials, if we create films celebrating marriage between one man and one woman, we must also create films promoting views about marriage that violate our beliefs, including films promoting same-sex marriages. The state is threatening us with steep fines and up to 90 days in jail to force us to create films we don’t want to create.
Put simply, our options are to stay silent or face fines and jail.
Neither of these seemed like good or tolerant options to us. So we challenged the unconstitutional application of this law with the help of our attorneys at Alliance Defending Freedom. The Eighth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals heard our case on Oct. 16.
It is for this reason and, as best I can tell, for this reason alone, that our company has managed to attract a small constellation of single-star reviews — critical comments from people we’ve never seen, met, or talked to — individuals who never even attempted to hire us for their film-production needs.
Among the angry single stars is this emphatic comment about our company: “Doesn’t deserve to exist, I hope the company is never able to recover after what they have done.”
If the reviewer is interested, he is welcome to continue the conversation with us in person. My wife and I are, effectively, the company. If you want to shut down Telescope Media Group, you basically want to silence our voices and cut off our livelihood.
But we don’t respond to differences and disagreement as our detractors may expect. We love making new friends with people from different beliefs and backgrounds. We’re the sort of family that often welcomes in a total stranger, invites people without plans to join us for the holidays, and often has open seats at our 12-foot-long table, which has over 1,000 of our visitors’ names written on the bottom of it, so that they are never forgotten. It’s the centerpiece of our home — a place for lively discussion and real hospitality.
We always have and will continue to welcome people who don’t share our culture, our ethnicity, or our deep convictions into our home and our lives.
We’ve also had the pleasure of working with a lot of LGBT people on our film projects. We benefit from their creativity, their friendship and their business. Our ability to laugh, dialogue, and work together gives us great hope that our nation can transcend the political and cultural disagreements that so easily fracture our communities.
But this question — this cultural disagreement about whether we “deserve to exist” — has profound implications — not just for our family, but for our community and the country at large. It raises questions of its own: Who gets to decide? What are the rules?
I hope we can all agree — Republican or Democrat, atheist or Christian, LGBT or not — that the government shouldn’t have the power to decide what stories someone must tell, what scripts someone must write, what films someone must produce, or what beliefs someone must celebrate.
If the government is permitted to coerce our filmmaking and mandate our message, then everyone who speaks through art, film, photography, or some other expressive medium is at risk of being told by the government what they must say.
I have no desire to force an LGBT filmmaker to produce a video series of my church’s marriage conference. I have no plan to demand that a Muslim singer perform a solo in our Christmas concert. I have no wish to see a vegan photographer be required to shoot ads for the local rib joint.
At Telescope Media Group, we simply ask that such tolerance and freedom be extended to us. Ask yourself, if the government is not willing to extend it to us, will it be willing to extend it to you?
Carl Larsen is co-owner with his wife of Telescope Media Group in St. Cloud.