Two female Christian artists in Arizona who refuse to make custom-art for same-sex weddings could actually be jailed for sticking to their religious beliefs.
Joanna Duka and Breanna Koski, who own Brush & Nib Studio, make custom artwork using painting, calligraphy, and hand lettering. They filed suit against the city of Phoenix, as a Phoenix city ordinance threatens them with up to six months and/or a fine of $2,500 each day they refuse to make the artwork. First, the women filed in state court to overturn the ordinance, but lost in a court of appeals, prompting them to appeal to the state’s Supreme Court, which said on November 20 it would hear the case.
The Alliance Defending Freedom, which represents the women, asked in their petition:
Does Phoenix violate the Arizona Constitution’s Free Speech Clause when it forces commissioned artists to create custom artwork—consisting of words and paintings—conveying messages they object to and when it bans commissioned artists from publishing a statement explaining the artwork they can and cannot create?
Does Phoenix violate Arizona’s Free Exercise of Religion Act when it uses criminal penalties—including jail time—to force commissioned artists to create custom artwork expressing messages that violate their sincerely held religious beliefs and when it bans religiously motivated speech?
The petition added, “Their Christian beliefs forbid them from creating ‘custom artwork that conveys messages condoning, supporting, or participating in activities or ideas that violate their religious beliefs. For example, they cannot create artwork expressing messages that ‘contradict biblical truth, demean others, endorse racism, [or] incite violence.’”
ADF senior counsel Jonathan Scruggs stated at the time the state Supreme Court agreed to hear the case, “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.”
On Friday, ADF reported that a group of legislators weighed in in favor of the women:
The Arizona attorney general joined by other states, numerous state lawmakers, various scholars, and a diverse array of business, artistic, and faith-based groups have filed friend-of-the-court briefs with the Arizona Supreme Court in support of preserving artistic and religious freedom. Specifically, the briefs support two Phoenix artists who face 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.
The brief filed by Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich and other state attorneys general states, “A government simply cannot force a citizen to engage in or endorse expression. … [Phoenix] must not be allowed to force artists to create customized expressions contrary to their moral, religious, or political beliefs, even if such work is paid for by the one requesting it.”
Scruggs added, “As the briefs filed this week affirm, the government shouldn’t threaten artists with jail time and fines to force them to create art that violates their beliefs. Joanna and Breanna work with all people; they just don’t promote all messages. Creative professionals should be free to create art consistent with their convictions without the threat of government punishment. Instead, the government must protect the freedom of artists to choose which messages to express through their own creations.”
Video of the two women below: