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Free to create: Why two Christian filmmakers are challenging the government

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CarllLarsen-Directing2Carl and Angel Larsen are Minnesota filmmakers who founded their own company, Telescope Media Group, with a very specific purpose: “to glorify God through top-quality media production.” Christian belief and a passion for “God’s story” has always been at the center of their business.

Now, due to a state law and statements from government officials, their religious beliefs expose them to a range of new threats as it relates to filming weddings. Under the Minnesota Human Rights Act, the Larsens may face severe financial penalties and up to 90 days in jail for declining to create expression in support of same-sex weddings.

“A government that tells you what you can’t say is bad enough,” says Carl. “But a government that tells you what you must say is much worse. You can’t force people to promote things that violate their beliefs.”

In response, the Larsens have partnered with Alliance Defending Freedom to file a federal lawsuit known as a “pre-enforcement challenge,” arguing that the state law threatens their rights and runs afoul of First and 14th amendments to the U.S. Constitution. As the ADF summarized in a recent news release: “The Minnesota Department of Human Rights has construed that law to force creative professionals like the Larsens to promote objectionable messages even though they gladly serve everyone and decide what stories to tell based on the story’s message, not any client’s personal characteristics.”

For the Larsens, their business and the creative expression it generates is intricately tied to their religious commitments and objectives. “Artistic output is incredibly personal,” Carl says in a new video that highlights their story. “I believe all of us want to be part of a big story, the story. And storytelling, as a professional, taps on that reality of the human heart.”

As they explain in their complaint, the existence and success of their business rests entirely on their freedom of artistic expression:

Because the Larsens believe that every human is made in the image of God and is loved by God, they gladly work with all people—regardless of their race, sexual orientation, sex, religious beliefs, or any other classification.

The Larsens simply desire to use their unique storytelling and promotional talents to convey messages that promote aspects of their sincerely-held religious beliefs, or that at least are not inconsistent with them. It is standard practice for the owners of video and film production companies to decline to produce videos that contain or promote messages that the owners do not want to support or that violate or compromise their beliefs in some way.”

Indeed, the freedom to live and work according to our conscience is enjoyed by many on the other side of the aisle. As Senior Counsel Jeremy Tedesco reminds us, the Larsens should be treated no differently:

Filmmakers shouldn’t be threatened with fines and jail simply for disagreeing with the government. Every American—including creative professionals—should be free to peacefully live and work according to their faith without fear of punishment. For example, a fashion designer recently cited her ‘artistic freedom’ as a ‘family-owned company’ to announce that she won’t design clothes for Melania Trump because she doesn’t want to use her company and creative talents to promote political views she disagrees with. Even though the law in D.C. prohibits ‘political affiliation’ discrimination, do any of us really think the designer should be threatened with fines and jail time? The Larsens simply seek to exercise these same freedoms, and that’s why they filed this lawsuit to challenge Minnesota’s law.

For more read the full complaint.

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Joseph Sunde is an associate editor and writer for the Acton Institute. His work has appeared in venues such as The Federalist, First Things, The Christian Post, The Stream, Intellectual Takeout, Foundation for Economic Education, Patheos, LifeSiteNews, The City, Charisma News, The Green Room, Juicy Ecumenism, Ethika Politika, Made to Flourish, and the Center for Faith and Work. Joseph resides in Minneapolis, Minnesota with his wife and four children.

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