The National Pulse

Minn. Videographers Get Big Win in Key Religious Liberty Case

This past Friday marked a significant victory for religious freedom. The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals struck down most of a U.S. District Court decision which threatened to force videographers to produce content that violates the commands of their conscience. Instead, the appeals court ruled that a Minnesota anti-discrimination law could very well be unconstitutional and that a challenge to the law could therefore proceed.

The appellants, Carl and Angel Larsen, own a videography company called Telescope Media which produces commercial short-films and other video products. They first brought their case forward when they took the Minnesota Human Rights Commissioner Kevin Lindsay to court in 2016, alleging that regulations the Commission was tasked with enforcing could prevent the Larsens from breaking into the wedding videography market, due to their belief in a traditional definition of marriage.

That initial complaint filed by the Larsens thoroughly demonstrated the Christian nature of their company’s beliefs. For example, it pointed out that their company is named Telescope Media because of Christian theologian John Piper’s observation that “God created the universe to magnify His glory the way a telescope magnifies stars.” They also thoroughly outlined the basis of their religious objection to filming same-sex weddings. What’s more, they clarified that they had no objection to serving anyone. Rather, they objected to the idea that they could be compelled to provide a speech-product which would violate their artistic and religious principles.

Nevertheless, in 2017 the Minnesota District’s Chief Judge John Tunheim dismissed the complaint “with extreme prejudice” as Commissioner Lindsay and Minnesota’s Attorney General had requested. He claimed that the Larsens didn’t have standing. Controversially, he argued for a very broad interpretation of the constitutional power of government to abridge First Amendment rights in the area of commerce. Tunheim also suggested that a statement of faith on Telescope’s website including its wedding video policy would be similar to hiring discrimination in the pre-Civil Rights Act South, comparing it to a “white applicants only” sign.

Only months later, a more widely publicized case in the same area was argued before the Supreme Court: Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission. There, the Supreme Court rejected the type of reasoning employed by Judge Tunheim. The court argued instead that Colorado’s similar “non-discrimination” statutes could be applied in a way which unfairly burdened the plaintiff’s conscience rights.

Friday’s Eight Circuit decision similarly determined that the Minnesota law could very well lead to unconstitutional enforcement actions against the Larsens. Not surprisingly, this led to the Eighth Circuit holding that the couple had standing.

The reversal was built upon a thorough argument based on a strong judicial philosophy. That argument addressed the slim capacity for limitation of and the necessity of protecting religious liberty. More interestingly perhaps, the Masterpiece case is cited nine times. This is unsurprising, because the material objections in each case are similar. The baker in Masterpiece and the couple in this case both resist a statute which would force them to provide a product they have religious objections to providing. But they do not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation, because their refusal of service isn’t based on a would-be customer’s personal life but rather the way that statutes would compel their speech. 

With a number of related religious liberty cases also making their way through the courts nationwide, this Minnesota case will demand consideration in the months ahead.

Photo credit: wp paarz via Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0

Leo Thuman

Leo Thuman is a columnist for, primarily focusing on religious liberty issues.

  • I am same-sex married in a Christian Church. Ejecting me from this public accommodation is a violation of my religious liberty.

  • It’s obvious that those commenting have not 1. read the decision and are 2. not familiar with case law dealing with interracial marriage.

    Minnesota’s law and the way state officials wanted to enforce it, compelled speech. I’d encourage those complaining about this ruling consider for a moment how they would feel if the shoe was on the other foot.

    • They made a product. Stop the lies. It is a stretch calling this speech. I notice you dodge the point made by some of us. Can these bigots also deny service to interracial couples…in the name of their religion?

    • It would be nice if you answered the question. Can this public accommodation eject blacks and other minorities from their business, or is it just gay people who get turned away? You don’t answer that.

    • Not familiar with the case?Alliance Defending Freedom had recruited this couple to launch their business with the sole intention of overturning Minnesota’s anti-discrimination law. Their lawsuit was preemptively filed before they ever had any request to film a same-sex wedding. And probably, before they filmed any weddings at all.

      Moreover,What they (i.e., their lawyers) did was they were going to mandate in every contract that every wedding video they made would result in that video being used in videographers’ “personal” video project about the sanctity of heterosexual marriage only – thus they simply couldn’t do a job for a same sex couple. Minnesota affirmatively stated that if they failed to use a gay couple’s video in their personal project that they would not pursue them for violating any law – as it had no effect on what the customers are really looking for – i.e., video and editing services for their weddings. The district court judge handed the videographers their justifiable comeuppance. Future court cases will do the same

      Shane didn’t tell us that!
      Also, Shane hasn’t answered the question: If these bigots can invoke their so-called religion as a ruse to discriminate against LGBTQ people, can they also discriminate against racial minorities if serving black also offends their tender religious sensibilities? You keep dodging!

    • Can these bigots also use their “religious liberty” as cover to turn away an interracial couple? Shane continues to dodge the question. No surprise.

  • This may indeed be religious liberty. However I doubt Jesus is cheering the fact that God’s children can now be treated with contempt in public accommodations. Those bigots are indecent.

  • So Thurman believes a public accommodation should be free to shun racial minorities if it violates their religious beliefs? Are they free to shun Jews and Catholics? Or does Thurman believe only gay people should get shunned in public accommodations?

  • So the court said these videographers can deny an interracial couple service if it violates their so-called religious beliefs!!!!

    A victory for religious liberty!