The right of Christians to be free from the state coercing them into actively participating in events that they consider reprehensible won a major victory in the Eighth Circuit.

Carl and Angel Larsen run a video business called Telescope Media in St. Cloud, MN. The are observant Christians but the Minnesota Human Rights Act unambiguously requires them to provide video services of basically any event. They could be forced to memorialize the drag queen story hour at the local library or day care center or record for posterity a sham wedding ceremony.

In innumerable cases courts interpret laws that prohibit discrimination against homosexual persons to prohibit discrimination against homosexual behavior, and thus to require complicity in behavior Scripture declares to be sinful. Pointing to the many types of behavior one can legally object to in the marketplace, and the obvious wrong of having to facilitate activity deemed immoral, is met with the claim that discrimination against homosexual behavior is discrimination against homosexual persons.

A very recent case of this type concerns Telescope Media Group videography company in St. Cloud, Minnesota. Influenced by Reformed theologian John Piper’s comparison of telescopes magnifying distant stars and microscopes magnifying small objects with our reason for being, which is to magnify God, Telescope Media Group founders and owners Carl and Angel Larsen endeavor to glorify God in all their work and present his truth through their video skills. Although they have a clear religious and expressive purpose in their work, and desire to use their talents to tell stories with their videography about “the historic, Biblically orthodox definition of marriage,” they are unable to use their narrative skills with weddings because of Minnesota’s sexual orientation anti-discrimination law. Not only does the law provide for severe civil and criminal penalties (triple compensatory and punitive damages to the aggrieved party up to $25,000, and up to 90 days in jail), but it is aggressively enforced by the state attorney general with “testers” who seek out merchants who will decline services that contribute to homosexual behavior.

Rather than wait around for the obvious set-up as has happened to Jack Phillips and his Masterpiece Cakeshop and then litigate with tens of thousands of dollars in potential damages hanging over their heads, the Larsens, with the assistance of the Alliance Defending Freedom, filed a suit in federal court seeking injunctive relief. Unsurprisingly, the case was tossed by the district court judge who was pretty much in the “bake that cake” camp. The Larsens and ADF appealed to the Eighth Circuit and last Friday they won in a big way.

(Read the whole decision.)

In its opinion in Telescope Media Group v. Lucero, the 8th Circuit wrote, “Carl and Angel Larsen wish to make wedding videos. Can Minnesota require them to produce videos of same-sex weddings, even if the message would conflict with their own beliefs? The district court concluded that it could and dismissed the Larsens’ constitutional challenge to Minnesota’s antidiscrimination law. Because the First Amendment allows the Larsens to choose when to speak and what to say, we reverse the dismissal of two of their claims and remand with instructions to consider whether they are entitled to a preliminary injunction….”

“Indeed,” the 8th Circuit continued, “if Minnesota were correct, there is no reason it would have to stop with the Larsens. In theory, it could use the MHRA to require a Muslim tattoo artist to inscribe ‘My religion is the only true religion’ on the body of a Christian if he or she would do the same for a fellow Muslim, or it could demand that an atheist musician perform at an evangelical church service. In fact, if Minnesota were to do what other jurisdictions have done and declare political affiliation or ideology to be a protected characteristic, then it could force a Democratic speechwriter to provide the same services to a Republican, or it could require a professional entertainer to perform at rallies for both the Republican and Democratic candidates for the same office.”

I think the court gets this exactly right. The Minnesota statute essentially makes any business owner and any employee a serf to any customer. Carried to its logical conclusion you could have a situation were a demented pre-op transsexual could demand that a women’s salon wax and moisturize his balls.

Just some thoughts here.

The decision was 2-1. A Trump and a Bush appointee finding in favor of religious freedom, an Obama appointee demanding that the cake be baked. The Trump appointee wrote the opinion. You people who laughed about folks voting for Trump because of judges and who actively pushed for a Clinton presidency, you should be feeling pretty ridiculous right now…but I know you aren’t.

I don’t know what kind of legs this decision will have but the majority lays out an easily understandable and defensible position in the face of totalitarian laws like the one in Minnesota.

Every time we get one of these cases to the Supreme Court, we’ll gain some ground. The recent decisions out of SCOTUS on parochial school funding, management of church personnel, and the display of religious symbols have stopped the bleeding. Even though Jack Phillips did not have a clear win, his partial victory certainly makes these little fascists on state “human rights” boards and commissions be more inventive in their deliberations.

This is a struggle that will go on for years but I think in the end we’ll be able to carve out sufficient space for people of faith to be able to live a life comporting with that faith in the public square.

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