Phoenix Artists Win Huge Religious Liberty Case In State Supreme Court


Defenders of religious liberty are rejoicing after a pair of artists in Phoenix who stood firm on their convictions of traditional, God-designed marriage was handed a monumental victory Monday.

Even amid the threat of massive fines and jail time under a controversially interpreted Phoenix law, Joanna Duka and Breanna Koski, the brilliantly talented owner-artists of Brush & Nib Studio, refused to cave on their Christian convictions regarding marriage.

According to a press release from Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), Brush and Nib creates custom artwork using hand painting, hand lettering, and calligraphy. Exceptional work like Brush and Nib’s is highly sought after in the wedding industry which, for obvious reasons, has become an increasingly dangerous place for any Christian to earn their living.

Soon after launching their business, Duka and Koski discovered that the way the city of Phoenix interprets its public accommodations ordinance, ADF continues, “forces artists like Duka and Koski to use their artistic talents to celebrate and promote same-sex marriage in violation of their beliefs, even when they decide what art they create based on the art’s message, not the requester’s personal characteristics. The ordinance also bans them from publicly communicating what custom artwork they can and cannot create consistent with their faith.”

According to the City of Phoenix, if Joanna and Breanna design and create custom wedding invitations to celebrate traditional, heterosexual marriages, they must take on work for homosexual weddings as well. Even if they politely declined such work, they could be subject to six months in jail and $2,500 in fines for each day that Phoenix decided they were not in compliance.

Yesterday, however, Duka and Koski’s resilience and obedience as followers of Christ were greatly rewarded when the Arizona Supreme Court ruled in their favor and recognized that Phoenix cannot force them to express messages or celebrate events that contradict their convictions. 

Praise God for his mercy!

As Christians, Joanna and Breanna seek to run their business consistently with their faith, ADF told the court.

“These women of deep religious faith gladly serve everyone, including those in the LGBT community; their faith simply prevents them from expressing certain messages for anyone. So this case is not about whether businesses can decline to serve an entire class of people. It is about whether artists can freely choose which messages their own art conveys.”

Representing Duka and Koski, ADF argued that Phoenix’ coercion violates fundamental protections of freedom of speech and religion:

“The government shouldn’t threaten artists with jail time and fines to force them to create custom artwork, such as wedding invitations, expressing messages that violate their beliefs, and that’s what the court has affirmed today,” said ADF Senior Counsel Jonathan Scruggs, who argued on behalf of Duka and Koski before the Arizona Supreme Court. “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. Instead, government must protect the freedom of artists to choose which messages to express through their own creations. The court was right to find that protections for free speech and religion protect the freedom of creative professionals to choose for themselves what messages to express through their custom artwork.”

The Arizona Supreme Court issued a strong decision and declared that “an individual has autonomy over his or her speech and thus may not be forced to speak a message he or she does not wish to say.”

“The rights of free speech and free exercise, so precious to this nation since its founding, are not limited to soft murmurings behind the doors of a person’s home or church, or private conversations with like-minded friends and family,” the court wrote in its decision

“These guarantees protect the right of every American to express their beliefs in public. This includes the right to create and sell words, paintings, and art that express a person’s sincere religious beliefs,” the court continued. “With these fundamental principles in mind, today we hold that the City of Phoenix…cannot apply its Human Relations Ordinance…to force Joanna Duka and Breanna Koski…to create custom wedding invitations celebrating same-sex wedding ceremonies in violation of their sincerely held religious beliefs.”

May we all be so blessed as to live out our faith in every aspect of our lives without fear of retribution from leftist-controlled government bodies.

Still, we know that there is still much ground to be won in the war for religious liberty in America. 

“If the government can compel artists to speak messages and celebrate events against their faith,” ADF’s press release concludes, “what’s to say they won’t seek to coerce the rest of us?”

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