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Published On: Mon, Nov 26th, 2018

Joanna Duka and Breanna Koski continue battle for freedom of conscience as gay marriage case heads to Arizona Supreme Court

The Arizona Supreme Court agreed Tuesday to take up a pivotal artistic and religious freedom case. The case, Brush & Nib Studio v. City of Phoenix, involves two artists who risk jail time and fines if they violate a sweeping Phoenix criminal law that forces them to design and create custom artwork expressing messages that violate their core beliefs.

In a June ruling, the Arizona Court of Appeals decided to allow the city to override Joanna Duka and Breanna Koski’s artistic and religious decisions about what messages to convey through their hand-painted and hand-lettered artwork. Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys representing Duka and Koski, owners of Brush & Nib Studio, then asked the high court to take the case because Phoenix’s position and the lower court’s decision violate fundamental principles of freedom of speech and religion. State legislators and other third parties also filed their own briefs with the court to encourage it to take the case.

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“No one should be forced to create artwork contrary to their core convictions, and certainly not under threat of criminal fines and jail time. That is what’s at stake in this case, and we hope that the Arizona Supreme Court’s decision will protect artistic and religious freedom for everyone,” said ADF Senior Counsel Jonathan Scruggs, who argued the case before the Arizona Court of Appeals. “The government must allow artists to make their own decisions about which messages they will promote. Joanna and Breanna are happy to design custom art for anyone; they simply object to being forced to pour their heart, soul, imagination, and talent into creating messages that violate their conscience.”

Duka and Koski specialize in creating custom artwork using hand painting, hand lettering, and calligraphy to celebrate weddings and other events. The women’s religious convictions guide them in determining which messages they can and cannot promote through their custom artwork.

Phoenix interprets its ordinance in a way that forces the two artists to use their artistic talents to celebrate and promote same-sex marriage in violation of their beliefs. It also bans them from publicly communicating what custom artwork they can and cannot create consistent with their faith. The law threatens up to six months in jail, $2,500 in fines, and three years of probation for each day that there is a violation.

In the case, a pre-enforcement challenge to Phoenix 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 interpreted the ordinance to force artists, like Duka and Koski, to create objectionable art, even when they decide what art they can create based on the art’s message, not the requester’s personal characteristics.

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