Brush & Nib, a graphics design business owned by two young Arizona Christians, scored a huge win for religious freedom and free speech at the Arizona Supreme Court. Joanna Duka and Breanna Koski run their business in accordance with their religious beliefs, including not promoting ideas with their artwork that clash with their faith.
Part of their business includes weddings, and specifically custom-made wedding invitations. They believe that marriage is biblically ordained only between one man and one woman, and won’t use their art to create wedding invitations celebrating any other type.
There was just one problem. The City of Phoenix, Arizona, where their business is located, has a non-discrimination ordinance that threatens fines and jail time for Duka and Koski if they refuse to create custom invitations for same-sex weddings. They could have spent up to six months in jail and incurred $2500 in fines, as well as three years’ probation, for each day they were found in violation of the ordinance. Concerned that their livelihood and freedom were in jeopardy, the pair brought a preemptive lawsuit against the city under the Arizona Constitution’s version of the First Amendment as well as the state Free Exercise of Religion Act. They lost in a local court, and lost again at the Arizona Court of Appeals. They appealed to the state’s highest court, which, in a close 4-3 decision, stated in no uncertain terms what this case was about:
“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. 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 majority opinion 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, owners of Brush & Nib Studios LC, to create custom wedding invitations celebrating same-sex wedding ceremonies in violation of their sincerely held beliefs.”
Duka and Koski, much like Jack Phillips of Masterpiece Cakeshop fame, are willing to serve all customers, but they are not willing to create all messages.
“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 in a statement posted on ADF’s website. “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.”
Hopefully other state courts will learn from this well-reasoned ruling and follow its lead in protecting free speech and religious freedom.
“This isn’t just a victory for [Duka and Koski],” Scruggs said. “It’s a victory for everyone.”
Photo from Alliance Defending Freedom