My wife and I are professional storytellers. Through our family business, Telescope Media Group, we produce short films, commercials and documentaries. And we direct live events.
We serve everyone. We just cannot express every message or celebrate every event through our custom films.
To our dismay, several years ago we learned about a Minnesota law — or rather, the unusual application of one — that sought to interfere with our filmmaking choices. According to state officials, this law would force us to create films promoting messages in conflict with our deepest beliefs.
The state’s position put us to a terrible choice. We could bend to the state’s interpretation of the law and compromise our faith; we could follow our faith and risk severe penalties, including fines, damages, or even jail time; or we could ask a court to vindicate our fundamental rights before we entered the wedding film industry.
We opted for court, but only as a last resort. The issue was simple but huge: Can the state compel filmmakers’ speech — that is, can it force filmmakers to create content that violates their core beliefs — just because they offer to create films for a living?
Minnesota said “yes”; we said “no.” On Aug. 23, a federal appeals court issued a strong ruling in favor of our free-speech rights.
That’s a big win — not only for us, but for everyone.
This mandate would pose a problem for any filmmaker, religious or not. The state shouldn’t be able force you to speak messages that contradict what you believe. For us, this means we can’t create films that depict sexual immorality, support the destruction of unborn children or promote racism. For you, it may mean you won’t promote a conservative political candidate or the National Rifle Association.
We also cannot create films that celebrate any conception of marriage other than a lifelong covenant between one man and one woman, and it’s this stance that set us in the cross hairs of state officials. According to them, if we create films that are consistent with our religious beliefs about marriage, then state law requires that we also create films that promote different conceptions of marriage, including same-sex marriage.
You, like many of our friends, may disagree with our conviction about marriage. But the same principle that protects our filmmaking choices also stops the government from hijacking your speech.
The Eighth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals understood this. The court said that the same rule that protects us also bars the state from forcing “an atheist musician to perform at an evangelical church service,” a “Democratic speechwriter to provide the same services to a Republican,” or “a professional entertainer to perform at rallies for both the Republican and Democratic candidates for the same office.” Can you imagine Beyoncé, U2, Bruce Springsteen or Usher, all of whom performed at President Barack Obama’s inaugural celebration, being forced to perform at President Donald Trump’s under threat of fines and jail time?
Hours after the court issued its ruling, Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison tweeted, “It’s simple: everyone deserves to and must live with dignity and respect — no exceptions … .” We couldn’t agree more.
Everyone deserves dignity and respect — including creative professionals and people of faith. The only way for a society to give everyone the dignity and respect they deserve is to allow space for disagreement and the freedom to choose, as the Eighth Circuit put it, “when to speak and what to say.”
The only alternative is government coercion, which erases freedom, erodes diversity, and destroys the dignity of anyone who holds views outside of current cultural norms. These are protections the government is supposed to guarantee to every citizen, not something we should have to fight it for.
The Constitution ensures that everyone enjoys the same freedoms, not the same beliefs. Friday’s decision reaffirmed that principle. As a result, Minnesotans can more confidently live and work consistently with their deepest beliefs, no matter who they are. That’s something we can all celebrate.
Carl Larsen is the co-owner of Telescope Media Group in St. Cloud.