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Published On: Fri, Oct 27th, 2017

Phoenix artists Joanna Duka, Breanna Koski appealing ‘jail threat’ ordinance over gay weddings

Two Phoenix artists will appeal a court rulingreleased Wednesday that allows a sweeping Phoenix ordinance to stand even though it uses the threat of jail time and fines to silence their desired speech and forces them to create custom artwork expressing messages that violate their core beliefs.

Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys representing the artists in their civil liberties lawsuit will continue to challenge the ordinance, which illegally controls artistic expression—violating the freedom of Joanna Duka and Breanna Koski of Brush & Nib Studio to choose which messages to convey and refrain from conveying.

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“No creative professional should be threatened with jail time for expressing a point of view that the government doesn’t favor,” said ADF Senior Counsel Jonathan Scruggs. “Breanna and Joanna are happy to create custom art for all people; they simply object to being forced to pour their heart, imagination, and talent into creating messages that violate their consciences. Phoenix must allow them and any other artists to make their own decisions about which messages they will promote. That’s why we intend to appeal this decision.”

Duka and Koski specialize in hand-painting, hand-lettering, and calligraphy for weddings and other events. The women’s deeply held religious beliefs guide them in determining which messages they can and cannot promote through their commissioned artwork. The city’s ordinance forces them to use their artistic talents to celebrate and promote same-sex marriages in violation of their beliefs. It also bans them from publicly communicating their Christian belief that God designed marriage as a union between one man and woman and how those beliefs affect the artwork they can create.

In a pre-enforcement challenge to City Code Section 18-4(B), ADF attorneys argue that the ordinance violates the Arizona Constitution and Arizona’s Free Exercise of Religion Act. Phoenix officials have construed the ordinance to force artists, like Duka and Koski, to create objectionable art, even though they decide what art they can create based on the art’s message, not the requester’s personal characteristics.

The Phoenix ordinance also includes a censorship provision that prohibits businesses, including artists, from publicly communicating any message that “implies” someone would be “unwelcome” or “not solicited” based upon the person’s sexual orientation. If Duka and Koski publicly explain their position on marriage and how that position affects their artwork, they risk up to six months in jail, a $2,500 fine, and three years of probation for each day they violate the ordinance.

The ruling in Brush & Nib Studio v. City of Phoenix came from Maricopa County Superior Court. ADF attorneys also represent cake artist Jack Phillips and Masterpiece Cakeshop in another artistic freedom case, which is currently before the U.S. Supreme Court.

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