Law & The Courts

A federal court strikes a powerful blow for free speech and religious freedom.

Regulating speech because it is discriminatory or offensive is not a compelling state interest, however hurtful the speech may be. It is a “bedrock principle . . . that the government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable.”

 

Christian videographers will not be forced to produce videos of same-sex weddings.

Earlier today, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the constitutional order, limited the reach of expansive nondiscrimination laws, and protected a Christian couple from having to choose between their business and their conscience.

The facts of the case are simple. The plaintiffs, Carl and Angel Larsen, are videographers who create “commercials, short films, and live-event productions.” While they work with anyone of any race, sex, sexual orientation, or religion, they will not produce videos that advance viewpoints that violate their Christian beliefs. That includes videos that “contradict biblical truth; promote sexual immorality; support the destruction of unborn children; promote racism or racial division; incite violence; degrade women; or promote any conception of marriage other than as a lifelong institution between one man and one woman.”

The Larsens hoped to begin producing wedding videos, but Minnesota interpreted its human-rights act to require them to “produce both opposite-sex- and same-sex-wedding videos, or none at all.” Minnesota would also require them to produce videos that depicted “same- and opposite-sex weddings in an equally ‘positive’ light.” This raised the possibility that a gay couple who didn’t like the subjective quality of a video the Larsens produced for them could seek state sanctions based on alleged sexual-orientation discrimination.

With the assistance of my friends and former colleagues at the Alliance Defending Freedom, the Larsens filed suit, claiming that Minnesota’s rule would compel them to speak in support of messages they oppose. The trial court ruled in favor of the state, and the Larsens appealed.

One of the key constitutional questions of our time is whether the First Amendment will retain its supremacy and potency even as nondiscrimination rules and regulations expand in scope and reach. In this case, the Eight Circuit answered with an emphatic “Yes,” and it did so through a majority opinion that provided a clear roadmap for future courts and future controversies.

Judge David Stras’s majority opinion begins with a simple, obvious, but crucial conclusion. The Larsens’s wedding videos are a “form of speech that is entitled to First Amendment protection.”

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