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Telescope Media Grp. v. Lucero - 936 F.3d 740 (8th Cir. 2019)

Rule:

Laws that compel speech or regulate it based on its content are subject to strict scrutiny, which will require a state, at a minimum, to prove that the application of the law to the plaintiffs is narrowly tailored to serve a compelling state interest. The choice of a speaker not to propound a particular point of view is presumed to lie beyond the government's power to control. The fundamental rule of protection under the First Amendment is that a speaker has the autonomy to choose the content of his own message. In an as-applied challenge, the focus of the strict-scrutiny test is on the actual speech being regulated, rather than how the law might affect others who are not before the court.

Facts:

The Larsens, who own and operate Telescope Media Group, use their skills to identify and tell compelling stories through video. The Larsens were Christians; hence, they were declining any requests for their services that conflict with their religious beliefs, including same-sex marriage. The Larsens wished to make films that promote their view of marriage as a “sacrificial covenant between one man and one woman.” To do so, they went to being producing wedding videos, but only of opposite-sex weddings. However, the State of Minnesota, invoking two provisions of the Minnesota Human Rights Act (MHRA), claimed that a decision to produce any wedding videos required the Larsens to make them for everyone, regardless of the Larsens’ beliefs and the message they wish to convey. Thereafter, the Larsens filed a suit against Minnesota in federal district court seeking injunctive relief preventing Minnesota from enforcing the MHRA against them. Their principal theory was that it was unconstitutional under the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment to require them to make same-sex-wedding videos. They also raised free-exercise, associational-freedom, equal-protection, and unconstitutional-conditions claims, as well as an argument that the MHRA was unconstitutionally vague. The district court granted Minnesota's motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim. According to the court, the Larsens' free-speech claim failed as a matter of law because the MHRA served an important governmental interest—preventing discrimination—without limiting more speech than necessary to accomplish this goal. It also ruled that the MHRA did not violate any of the other constitutional rights identified by the Larsens.

Issue:

Could the State of Minnesota require the Larsens to produce videos of same-sex weddings, even if the message would conflict with their own beliefs?

Answer:

No.

Conclusion:

The Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit noted that the First Amendment, which applied to the states through the Fourteenth Amendment, prevented the government from compelling individuals to voice support for views they find objectionable. According to the Court, there was no room under the Constitution for a more restrictive approach because the alternative would lead to standardization of ideas by legislatures, courts, or dominant political or community groups. As such, the Court concluded that the State’s interpretation of the MHRA constituted compelled speech and it operated as a content-based regulation of the speech.

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