Christian Business Owners Win Religious Liberty Case at Arizona Supreme Court

Arizona’s Supreme Court has ruled 4-3 in favor of Joanna Duka and Breanna Koski, owners and artists of Brush & Nib Studio, upholding their religious liberty over the demands of an anti-discrimination ordinance in the city of Phoenix.

Soon after launching their studio in 2015, Duka and Koski, both Christians, discovered that a Phoenix anti-discrimination ordinance would require them to create custom artwork expressing messages that violate their Biblical beliefs.

According to the ordinance, if Duka and Koski designed and created custom wedding invitations to celebrate marriages between a man and a woman, they would be obligated to do the same to celebrate same-sex weddings. If they declined, Duka and Koski could face criminal penalties—including up to six months in jail and $2,500 in fines for each day of incompliance with the ordinance.

In May 2016, Duka and Koski filed a lawsuit against the city of Phoenix over the ordinance.

“Artists shouldn’t be forced to create artwork contrary to their core convictions, and certainly not under threat of criminal fines and jail time,” said Alliance Defending Freedom senior counsel Jonathan Scruggs, who argued on the business owners’ behalf. “Breanna and Joanna are happy to design custom art for all people; they simply object to being forced to pour their heart, soul, imagination and talent into creating messages that violate their conscience.”

Last week’s decision reversed a lower-court ruling that had favored the city.

“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,” Justice Andrew Gould wrote in the majority decision last week. “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.”

The state’s high court concluded that the ordinance violated Duka and Koski’s free speech and religious liberty rights under the Arizona Constitution and their rights protected by the state’s Free Exercise of Religion Act.

“The guarantees of free speech and freedom of religion are not only for those deemed sufficiently enlightened, advanced or progressive,” Gould wrote.

“This isn’t just a victory for [Duka and Koski],” Scruggs said. “It’s a victory for everyone.”

Photo: Alliance Defending Freedom