Joanna Duka and Breanna Koski own Brush & Nib Studio located in Phoenix, Ariz. As artists, they design custom artwork for customers for all occasions. As Christians, they are worried that a Phoenix ordinance could land them in jail and/or impose heavy fines for turning down requests for art that conveys a message with which they disagree.
They sound very much like Jack Phillips of Masterpiece Cakeshop in Lakewood Colo., when they explain that they are willing to serve all customers, but they are not willing to convey all messages, no matter who asks for them. For example, the Phoenix ordinance would punish the two for refusing to create a custom wedding invitation to a same-sex wedding. Forcing them to create such a message would require them to violate their deeply held religious beliefs concerning marriage.
The two young artists were concerned enough about their potential legal exposure that they brought a religious freedom challenge against the City of Phoenix, asking the state courts to rule that their artistic expression and free speech are protected from certain applications of the Phoenix ordinance. So far, the women have lost in two lower courts. On January 22, they appeared before the Arizona Supreme Court, represented by the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF).
Attorney Jonathan Scruggs, Senior Counsel with ADF, spoke on the courthouse steps after the hearing:
Today we asked the Arizona Supreme Court to protect the freedom of these two artists to create beautiful artwork and to convey messages consistent with who they are and what they believe. From our country’s very inception, the Constitution has guaranteed the right of religious liberty and of free speech. Those freedoms are guaranteed to everyone and should be protected, without someone fearing unjust punishment from the government. It’s what makes us American. But Phoenix is using the threat of jail time and fines to force Joanna and Breanna to pick up their pen and pick up their brush and create custom artwork that conveys a message that violates their core convictions. As Christians, Joanna and Breanna’s faith inspires and is woven into everything they create. Everything they imagine, design and hand craft.
Joanna Duka also spoke after the hearing. “The government should never be in the business of controlling how artists make creative decisions, and the messages they choose to convey through their artwork,” she explained to the journalists and assembled crowd. “Everyone should be free to peacefully live and work according to their beliefs without fear of unjust punishment.”
The studio owners face up to six months in jail and up to $2500 in fines for each day they are found to be in noncompliance with the ordinance.
The case is titled Brush & Nib Studio v. City of Phoenix. A decision is not expected for several months.