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Minnesota Wants to Censor and Coerce Christian Artists

A Christian filmmaker is not a vending machine.

If that seems obvious to you, you’re probably not an employee of the Minnesota Department of Human Rights.

Carl and Angel Larsen own a Minnesota-based video production company, Telescope Media Group, that exists to tell compelling stories that honor God. They’d like to branch out and start conceiving, filming, and editing motion pictures that celebrate marriage as the union of one man and one woman in holy matrimony. For them, this is not merely a job but a calling rooted in their faith. They view marriage as a living parable—an illustration of the relationship between Christians and their Savior.

This idea doesn’t resonate with the state’s Department of Human Rights, which seems bent on aggressively enforcing a narrow interpretation of the Minnesota Human Rights Act. State officials have interpreted that law to require anyone who makes films celebrating man-woman weddings to also make films celebrating same-sex weddings. If they refuse, they can be punished with a fine of up to $25,000 and 90 days in jail.

Combining Censorship and Coercion

The implications of this law are disturbing. Government officials are not only telling filmmakers what they can or can’t film, but also what they’re required to create. But what are the limits to that type of censorship and compulsion? Does any artist who paints a portrait of Martin Luther King, Jr., have to paint a Ku Klux Klansman as well? Does anyone who sings at a Muslim ceremony have to sing at a Christian one too? Do Democratic speechwriters have to do equal time composing remarks for Republican candidates?

Beyond the absurdities this interpretation poses, the law itself is clearly unconstitutional. It denies any artist who chooses to dissent from the cultural zeitgeist their freedom of speech and religious belief. It functionally enslaves every creative soul to the politically correct norms of the day.

Even more, though, this “Human Rights Act” inserts government authority into a realm no government should ever enter: the human mind and soul.

Art Can’t Be Compelled

Which brings us back to the vending machine analogy. The Minnesota Department of Human Rights is treating artists—particularly Christian artists—like a soda machine. A client drops in loose change, pushes a button, and out comes . . . grape soda. If the next client wants orange soda, he simply inserts the same quarters and pushes a different button, and out comes the flavor he prefers.

But artists aren’t machines. A client can’t just push a button and—presto!—here’s the exact film, portrait, flower arrangement, or wedding cake you had in mind. All inspirations are not interchangeable. If a client prefers the work of one artist to another, that preference must come with the realization that art, as an act of creation, comes not from some mechanical combination of imaginative impulses but from the beliefs and musings of the artist’s mind and soul.

An artistic creation is of a piece with the artist himself. That’s why you don’t hire Norman Rockwell to do landscape paintings, or ask Luciano Pavarotti to lend his celebrated voice to “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go.” It’s not that they lack the talent. It’s not that they’d look down on you for asking. It’s just that it’s not where their heart lies, not where their creativity will flourish.

The same is true for filmmakers like the Larsens, who compose motion pictures celebrating aspects of the Christian faith for ministries like Desiring God, Radical, and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. The government shouldn’t be trying to force these artists to violate their artistic vision and religious beliefs by promoting same-sex unions.

Minnesota’s Human Rights Act is a good piece of legislation being interpreted in a bad way—as an instrument of coercion and de facto censorship rather than a protection against arbitrary acts of discrimination. Protecting the conscience of artists and their right to create freely is crucial to cultivating a healthy and free society for all.

Editors’ note: Jeremy Tedesco represents the Larsens and Telescope Media Group in a lawsuit against Minnesota officials over their application of the state’s Human Rights Act.