Today the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals released a decision that adds another opportunity for a case in the Supreme Court concerning the crossroads between anti-discrimination laws and religious freedom.
In a 2-1 decision, the panel of judges decided that a couple who won’t shoot wedding videos for same-sex weddings can pursue a claim in court that includes elements of free speech and religious freedom rights.
Donald Trump appointee David Stras led the panel and wrote the decision, joined by Bobby Shepherd, a George W. Bush appointee. Judge Jane Kelly, a Barack Obama appointee, dissented with part of the decision.
In the case, Angel and Carl Larsen, who own Telescope Media Group in Minneapolis, argued that the Minnesota Human Rights Act infringed on their rights by requiring them to film wedding videos for same-sex couples.
The overall decision sent the case back to the district court in Minnesota for the judge, who dismissed the case in 2017, to decide whether the Larsens deserve a preliminary injunction to bar enforcement of the law while the case goes through court.
The majority decision acknowledged that the Larsens conduct their business in a way that makes their videos acts of expression. In their case, the expression is their view of marriage.
In her dissent, Kelly recognized the Larsens’ religious beliefs, but wrote, “But this case is not about the Larsens’ rights as individual citizens to worship freely or to speak openly about their faith or political views. It is about their rights as owners of Telescope Media Group (TMG), a Minnesota for-profit corporation.”
Kelly asserted that, under the Minnesota law, the Larsens were still free to communicate any message they want with their videos.
She said that because the Larsens own a public business, the law requires them to serve everyone. Because they collect profits, they also don’t qualify for religious exemptions.
Kelly wrote, “Indeed, caselaw has long recognized that generally applicable laws like Minnesota’s may limit the First Amendment rights of an individual in his capacity as the owner of a business serving the public.”
She cited the 2018 Supreme Court decision in Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. V. Colorado Civil Rights Commission as proof.
That case involved a Colorado baker who refused to make a wedding cake for a same-sex wedding. His argument was that it violated his religious beliefs, and the Colorado law infringed on his ability to freely practice them.
The Court ruled in the baker’s favor.
The Supreme Court never fully resolved the issue, and has refused to hear cases that would re-open it. Justice Anthony Kennedy also made it clear that the Court’s decision applied only to that case.
“The outcome of cases like this in other circumstances must await further elaboration in the courts,” he wrote then.
The Court has had other opportunities to address the event of private business owners or individuals citing their religious beliefs to deny service to same-sex couples.
Just in June, the Washington Supreme Court ruled against a florist who refused to sell flowers to same-sex couples for their wedding. It was the second time they ruled against the florist, and the case has potential to move up the federal court system.
However, the judges rejected a different June case from an Oregon baker who has refused to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple.
This case has the possibility to make it to the Supreme Court, too, and Kelly acknowledged that the Court has the ability to overturn its previous decisions that religious objections don’t allow business owners to deny access to goods and services.
But, she said, the Eighth Circuit doesn’t.
“Rather than disturb bedrock principles of law,” Kelly ended her dissent, “I would affirm the district court’s order in full.”
Kelly herself may soon be discussed as a potential Supreme Court justice as the Democratic presidential primary continues. She was on a short list of options for Barack Obama.
by Nikoel Hytrek