Lawsuit defends filmmakers in following conscience on marriage

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Owners of a video production company have filed suit against a Minnesota law they say could punish them if they decline to film a same-sex "wedding" ceremony or to state their objections in promotional materials.

"Filmmakers shouldn't be threatened with fines and jail simply for disagreeing with the government," said attorney Jeremy Tedesco, senior counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom, the legal group supporting them. "Every American – including creative professionals – should be free to peacefully live and work according to their faith without fear of punishment."

Carl and Angel Larsen run the St. Cloud, Minn. video production company Telescope Media Group. They said they aim to enter the wedding business but want to be clear on their website and other promotional materials that their company "cannot make films promoting any conception of marriage that contradicts its religious beliefs that marriage is between one man and one woman, including films celebrating same-sex marriages."

They said current law would compel them to produce videos "promoting a conception of marriage that directly contradicts their religious beliefs."

Minnesota law bars the denial of wedding services like cake decorating, wedding planning, or other commercial activities by "individuals, nonprofits or the secular business activities of religious entities," the Minneapolis Star-Tribune says.

Penalties for violating the law include payment of a civil fine, triple compensatory damages, punitive damages up to $25,000, a criminal penalty of up to $1,000 and a possible 90 days in jail.

State officials can use "testers" who pose as potential customers to investigate discrimination complaints. The tactic in 2014 resulted in a settlement with a venue that was accused of refusing to host a same-sex wedding.

Defenders of the couple characterized the matter as a question of artistic freedom.

"The Larsens can't publicly depict stories about the exclusive benefits of marriages between one man and one woman because Minnesota officials have categorically stated that conducting business in this way would violate the law," charged Caleb Dalton, legal counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom.

"The problem with this is that the government must allow artists the freedom to make personal decisions about what content they will create and what content they won't create."

The Larsens' lawsuit says they would also decline to convey messages promoting racism or racial division, sexual immorality, the degradation of women or the destruction of unborn children.

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