A religious liberty victory

MARY REICHARD, HOST: Coming up next on The World and Everything in It: a win for religious liberty.

Carl and Angel Larsen own a videography business in St. Cloud, Minnesota. They’d like to add wedding videos to their list of services. But they’re afraid that if they do, they’ll run afoul of the state’s Human Rights Act.

NICK EICHER, HOST: That law would require them to create videos for weddings of all types, including same-sex ceremonies. 

But the Larsens are Christians who want to tell stories that promote the Biblical view of marriage. So in 2016, the Larsens filed a pre-emptive challenge. They’ve not been accused of discrimination—not yet. But they fear they would be if Minnesota’s Human Rights Act stands in its current form.

REICHARD: A lower court dismissed the Larsens case two years ago. But last month, the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated the case and ordered the lower court to reconsider. The Christian legal organization Alliance Defending Freedom represents the Larsens. Jake Warner is one of its attorneys and joins us now to talk about the case.

Good morning, Jake.

JAKE WARNER, GUEST: Good morning!

REICHARD: The appeals court ruling was obviously very important to the Larsens’ case. But more broadly speaking tell us why it’s important to the issue of religious liberty overall?

WARNER: The principle that the 8th Circuit announced on August 23rd is really a principle that protects everyone—not just our clients Carl and Angel Larsen. In their case, Minnesota is saying they have the power to compel speech through using their public accommodation law. But thankfully the 8th Circuit said Minnesota can’t do that. The state has no business compelling creative professionals to express messages that violate their fundamental beliefs. And this is a principle that protects everyone, no matter what you believe about marriage or any other important topic of national debate.

REICHARD: We’ve heard a lot about the cases of florists, bakers, T-shirt printers, lots of other small business owners. Are the arguments in the Larsens’ case substantially different? If so, how?

WARNER: They’re not different at all. In fact, we hope that the other courts in the cases that you mentioned—you think of Jack Phillips in Colorado and Baronnelle Stutzman in Washington, Blaine Adamson in Kentucky, and Joanna Duka and Breanna Koski in Arizona. All of these people are facing a law that would force them to create expression that violate their Biblical belief about marriage. And we hope that other courts will follow the 8th Circuit’s precedent and adopt portions of their opinion and say that this is where the First Amendment draws the line and keeps the state from forcing people to express messages that they disagree with.

REICHARD: What about the law in question? Is it different from the SOGI laws, the sexual orientation/gender identity discrimination regulations affecting Christian business owners across the country?

WARNER: No, we see an almost identical law in many states across the country—over 20 states now have a similar law. And in many local jurisdictions—counties and cities around the country have an almost identical law to the one that the Larsens challenged in Minnesota. And that’s why I think this case is so important, because it really draws the line between what the government can and cannot regulate—the exact line that the First Amendment gives us on this issue.

REICHARD: So what’s next for this case?

WARNER: We don’t know for sure. We’re waiting on Minnesota to decide what they’re going to do with the case. They have a couple of options. It’s important to note that the solicitor general of Minnesota has now entered the case and so it’s likely that the state will try to appeal this decision. It will either go to the 8th Circuit en banc, which is the full panel of judges at the 8th Circuit, or perhaps they might appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court and give the U.S. Supreme Court a chance to finally address this free speech issue and where the First Amendment draws the line in how states can regulate speech through public accommodation laws.

REICHARD: And what’s next for the Larsens and their small business? Can they continue on with their business while in limbo?

WARNER: Well, it depends on how things move forward. If the state does not appeal the decision, the case will go back down to the district court and on remand we have every reason to believe that the court below will enter a preliminary injunction in the Larsens’ favor. Which means that if the court does that, the Larsens can enter the wedding industry and start creating films that celebrate biblical marriage and they would be excited to do that.

REICHARD: Jake Warner is an attorney with Alliance Defending Freedom. It represents Carl and Angel Larsen. Thank you so much for joining us today!

WARNER: Thanks for having me on the show!

(Photo/Alliance Defending Freedom) Carl Larsen

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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