Minnesota AG Opts to Take Videographer Discrimination Case Back to Federal District Court

By Laura Temme, Esq. on October 09, 2019 | Last updated on August 06, 2021

In August, a three-judge panel (despite being divided on the issue) reinstated a lawsuit filed by two Minnesota filmmakers who wish to limit their services based on their religious beliefs. Now, the state officials named in the suit have spoken out, explaining why they will not take their argument to the Supreme Court just yet.

In Case You Missed It

Carl and Angel Larsen run a videography business out of St. Cloud, Minnesota called Telescope Media Group. In 2016, the couple decided they wanted to expand their business into making wedding videos - a lucrative market for those who make their living with a camera. However, they felt their Christian beliefs could not coexist with filming same-sex weddings. Moreover, the company claims exclusive creative control over its videos, with the goal of impacting the cultural narrative surrounding marriage.

The Minnesota Human Rights Act prohibits discrimination based on personal characteristics, including sexual orientation. More specifically, the law defines the intentional refusal to do business with someone because of their sexual orientation as an unfair discriminatory practice. When the Larsens realized they could face steep fines or even jail time for offering services to only heterosexual couples, they filed for an injunction against the Human Rights Commission, alleging the law violated their Free Speech rights. Two years ago, a federal judge dismissed the case. But, the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals is giving it a second chance.

8th Circuit Revives the Larsens' Complaint

The case divided the appeals panel 2-1, with Judge Jane Kelly dissenting in part. Although the court affirmed dismissal of several of the Larsens' claims, it ultimately held that their videos were a form of speech protected by the First Amendment. Specifically, the majority found that the MHRA regulates speech based on content and attempts to compel the Larsens to speak in a way that conflicted with their beliefs.

In her dissent, Judge Kelly argued the exemption the Larsens seek is an "affirmative constitutional protection" inappropriate for a business offering a public accommodation. "Minnesota's law prohibits [serving only opposite-sex couples] just as it would prohibit any hotel from denying its services to an individual based on race," Judge Kelly wrote, noting that the fact the service the Larsens wished to provide was expressive did not transform the MHRA into a content-based regulation.

Back to the Drawing Board

In an opinion piece for the Star Tribune, Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison and Human Rights Commissioner Rebecca Lucero wrote that taking the case to the Supreme Court at this time “would result in a loss with dire consequences." Because

"the court would have to accept Telescope's fairy tale as true," Ellison and Lucero have decided to forego appealing to the highest court in the land - for the time being. Instead, they're headed back to 8th Circuit Federal District Court to add more facts to the record and build a stronger case.

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