The Eighth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals decision in August about which Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) vice president Jeremy Tedesco recently wrote an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal underscores the importance of philanthropy being attentive to opportunities that present the convergence of several issues.
In the case, Tedesco represented the Telescope Media Group, which was founded and is owned by Carl and Angel Larsen. They produce short documentaries and wedding videos. The Christian filmmakers believe marriage is between a man and a woman. The State of Minnesota disagrees and thought—and argued in court, citing its antidiscrimination law—that it could prevent the Larsens from declining to make videos for same-sex marriages on the basis of their religious beliefs.
The Larsens’ situation, of course, is similar to the more-familiar one of Jack Phillips, whose Masterpiece Cakeshop could not be forced by Colorado to bake wedding cakes for same-sex marriages, the U.S. Supreme Court held last year. Phillips’ case did not hinge on his First Amendment claim however, but rather on the unfairness of Colorado’s process.
The Eighth Circuit panel rejected Minnesota’s position, explicitly on First Amendment grounds. “Indeed, if Minnesota were correct, there is no reason it would have to stop with the Larsens,” according to the opinion of Judge David Stras. In theory, the former University of Minnesota Law School professor goes on, it could “require a Muslim tattoo artist to inscribe ‘My religion is the only true religion’ on the body of a Christian if he or she would do the same for a fellow Muslim, or it could demand that an atheist musician perform at an evangelical church service.”
“Eventually,” Tedesco notes, “a case like Telescope Media Groupwill give the justices a chance to resolve the free-speech question they left open and protect the rights of all creative professionals.”
Facets for funders
Sort of almost “intersectionally,” interestingly enough, the case combines several aspects of effective policy-oriented philanthropy.
First, in proper context, the value of good public-interest law. Lawsuits are part of the public-policy process, of course, and organizations and projects at work on it are worth supporting. Almost any legislation worth passing is worth suing over, and the suits will follow. Well-crafted legal actions are also required after judicial decisions themselves, to refine or clarify the previous victory or loss, as happened here—and there will need to be more, as ADF’s Tedesco says. They’re often also needed to ensure administrative implementation. This applies to grantmakers of whatever worldview, by the way.
Second, patience—as any setbacks are absorbed and victories are incrementally pursued or, and unfortunately maybe more incrementally, consolidated afterwards. This applies in situations other than the Larsens’ two-year-old case here, as well, but it did and does apply, and it too is relevant to all funders. Philanthropy is particularly suited to be patient, in a way that other sectors of society cannot as easily be.
Third, substantively, the First Amendment freedoms of speech and religion as worth discussing and defining, including in the law and policy. They are under stress, including from infringement by states like Minnesota and Colorado. All of us in the larger culture and perhaps policymakers, judges, and public administrators in particular can benefit from funding-fortified consideration of them.
Fourth, the importance of culture, and specifically filmmaking in culture. This may be an observation more for conservative givers, because “Hollywood” writ large is considered so owned by the left. Don’t give up the ship, or leave good people like the Larsens on it without any help. Since 1993, led by media critic Ted Baehr, Movieguide has even put on an annual, Oscars-like “Faith and Values Awards Gala.”
Some may want to abandon the ships in Hollywood and the culture, or in the labor and higher-education contexts, among others. Avoid this fatalistic tendency, if possible. Don’t be presentist, thinking all of that which is currently the case will always be the case. (See “Second, …” above.) And be willing to walk where either existing or would-be non-traditional allies might be found. They’ll add value, given from where they came.
Fifth and finally, this brief list of notes itself hints at the benefits of generalism instead of specialized expertise in grantmaking. The range of considerations brought to bear on funding the effort might have been largely missed by a smart, but narrowly focused expert. Success wasn’t inevitable. Something, or maybe many things, helped achieve it.