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Artists' Religious Freedom Hanging in the Balance as Arizona Takes Up Phoenix Anti-Discrimination Case

01-18-2019
Joanna Duka and Breanna Koski, owners of Brush & Nib Studio

The Arizona Supreme Court is set to hear a case next week involving two artists who want to stop a Phoenix law that makes it illegal for business owners to deny service to same-sex couples on the basis of religion.

Violators of the ordinance could face up to six months jail time – a fate plaintiffs Joanna Duka and Breanna Koski are hoping to avoid.

The women are the owners of Brush & Nib Studio, a small wedding invitation business founded on Christian principles. They say they'll serve anyone, regardless of sexual preferences – but they draw the line at producing custom messages that violate their Christian beliefs.

"Courts have long recognized individuals' right 'to hold a point of view different from the majority and to refuse to foster… an idea they find morally objectionable," the Alliance Defending Freedom, which represents the two women, argued in its most recent brief filed with the state's high court.

"Yet Phoenix tramples that right when it requires a calligrapher to pick up her pen and a painter her brush, and then, under threat of jail and crippling fines, forces them to conceive and then create original artwork expressing messages that violate their core religious convictions. Such government compulsion violates the fundamental liberty 'to refrain from speaking….'" ADF stated.

Just last June, the Arizona Court of Appeals ruled against the two artists, noting that "anti-discrimination ordinances are not aimed at the suppression of speech but at the elimination of discriminatory conduct."

The civil liberties lawsuit (Brush & Nib Studio v. City of Phoenix) being brought before the high court is challenging the ordinance, saying the state is interpreting the law in such a way as to disregard the plaintiffs' constitutionally protected freedom of religious expression.

"The government shouldn't threaten artists with jail time and fines to force them to create art that violates their beliefs," the women's attorney, Jonathan Scruggs with the ADF, said. "Joanna and Breanna work with all people; they just don't promote all messages. They, like all creative professionals, should be free to create art consistent with their convictions without the threat of government punishment." 

"Because the Arizona Constitution protects the freedom of creative professionals to choose for themselves what art they will create, we are asking the Supreme Court to rule in favor of Joanna and Breanna. If we want to have freedom and tolerance for ourselves, we need to extend it to others," he said.

The Arizona Supreme Court is scheduled to hear oral arguments in the case next Tuesday.

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