The Minnesota Human Rights Act (MHRA) prohibits discrimination against protected classes of people in places of public accommodation. It also prohibits a business from discriminating against customers who are in a protected class. In 1993 the MHRA was amended to include sexual orientation as a protected class. In 2013 the legislature enacted a law authorizing same sex marriages.
Telescope Media Group is a professional photography business. The owners are Christians who tape and edit videos. While they serve gay clients in other areas, they believe that same sex marriage undermines the “biblically-orthodox definition of marriage as between one man and one woman.” They oppose same sex marriage. They believe that providing their video services at a wedding of a gay couple voilates their religious beliefs. They claim that if they operate a wedding video service, they will be forced to choose between violating the MHRA — and facing the associated civil and/or criminal consequences — or offering wedding video services to same-sex couples in violation of their religious beliefs.
The videographers filed suit seeking declaration that under the MHRA, they cannot be forced to provide services to same sex weddings because it infringes on their First and Fourteenth Amendment rights to free speech, expressive association, free exercise, and due process. The videographers made many different arguments, a few of which are identified below.
The videographers wanted to post on their advertisements that they will not provide services to same sex weddings. They believe that the Human Rights Commissioner will “chill” their ability to exercise their right to free speech. The federal district court in Minnesota rejected this argument, noting that, by analogy, a business which posts “Whites only” would hardly be exercising permissible speech under the First Amendment.
The videographers also argued that the MHRA restricts the content of their videos because, if they provide services to a same sex wedding, the video would necessarily celebrate the event and by inference be seen as an advocate for same sex marriage. They contend that the MHRA effectively dampens their ability to speak out against same sex marriage. This argument was rejected by the federal district court because the law simply says they cannot deny the video service to a same sex couple; it doesn’t dictate the content of the video. Further, the MHRA would not prohibit the videographers from stating that they oppose same-sex marriage.
The State argued that any infringement on the videographers is far outweighed by the interest in the State to promote marriage and to prohibit discrimination against a protected class. The State argued it has a strong interest to prevent the stigmatization of its residents.
The videographers also claimed that the MHRA violates their First Amendment right to freely exercise their religion. The State argued that the MHRA does not refer to a religion and is content neutral as applied to all religions.
Telescope Media Group V. Lindsey and Swanson
271 F.Supp.3d 1090 (D. Minn. 2017)