The Arizona Supreme Court ruled on Monday that the city of Phoenix cannot use an anti-discrimination law to force two artists to design and create custom wedding invitations expressing messages that conflict with their core beliefs.
According to Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), a non-profit legal organization dedicated to defending religious freedom, the court ruled in favor of their clients, Joanna Duka and Breanna Koski, owners of Brush & Nib Studio, who were facing severe penalties for refusing to create custom wedding invitations for same-sex couples in violation of their religious beliefs.
The pair were targeted by the city for violating the city’s anti-discrimination ordinance which was used to force them to promote same-sex marriage and banned them from publicly communicating what custom artwork they can and cannot create. The lower courts upheld rulings against Duka and Koski, who specialize in creating custom artwork, which resulted in them being threatened with up to six months in jail, $2,500 in fines, and three years of probation for each day the city would find them in violation of the law.
Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys representing Duka and Koski filed suit against Phoenix because it interprets its law in a way that illegally controls artistic expression and disregards religious liberty. The state’s high court agreed and found that the law violates the freedom of Duka and Koski to express messages consistent with their religious beliefs through their custom wedding invitations.
“Duka and Koski’s beliefs about same-sex marriage may seem old-fashioned, or even offensive to some. But the guarantees of free speech and freedom of religion are not only for those who are deemed sufficiently enlightened, advanced, or progressive. They are for everyone,” the court wrote.
“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. 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.”
The decision is a victory for more than just Duka and Koski, but for all Christian artists.
“We are pleased that the city can no longer enforce its ordinance in a manner that violates freedom of expression or the ability of Joanna and Breanna to live and work consistently with their faith,” said ADF Senior Counsel Jonathan Scruggs, who argued the case.
“Joanna and Breanna will now be able to create custom wedding invitations and to communicate about their beliefs without fear of government punishment, as any artist should be free to do. This isn’t just a victory for them. It’s a victory for everyone.”
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