PHOENIX — Artists Joanna Duka and Breanna Koski, owners of Brush & Nib Studio, were at the Arizona Supreme Court Tuesday seeking to stop a Phoenix ordinance from forcing them to design and create custom artwork expressing messages that they claim violate their core beliefs.
Their case has national legal implications, and is being watched closely by both sides of the ongoing debate between those who frame it as a case of religious liberty and those who see it as discrimination against same-sex couples.
Duka and Koski are represented by Alliance Defending Freedom Senior Counsel Jonathan Scruggs.
The lawsuit challenges the ordinance because Phoenix interprets its law in a way that controls artistic expression and disregards religious liberty — violating the freedom of Duka and Koski to choose which messages they will convey and refrain from conveying consistent with their beliefs, said a release from Alliance Defending Freedom.
“The government shouldn’t threaten artists with jail time and fines to force them to create art that violates their beliefs,” said Scruggs. “Joanna and Breanna work with all people; they just don’t promote all messages. They, like all creative professionals, should be free to create art consistent with their convictions without the threat of government punishment.
“Instead, government must protect the freedom of artists to choose which messages to express through their own creations. Because the Arizona Constitution protects the freedom of creative professionals to choose for themselves what art they will create, we are asking the Supreme Court to rule in favor of Joanna and Breanna. If we want to have freedom and tolerance for ourselves, we need to extend it to others.”
The most recent brief ADF attorneys filed with the Arizona Supreme Court says that courts have long recognized individuals’ right “to hold a point of view different from the majority and to refuse to foster…an idea they find morally objectionable.”
“Yet Phoenix tramples that right when it requires a calligrapher to pick up her pen and a painter her brush, and then, under threat of jail and crippling fines, forces them to conceive and then create original artwork expressing messages that violate their core religious convictions. Such government compulsion violates the fundamental liberty ‘to refrain from speaking.’”
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 says this liberty is novel and dangerous; it is actually narrow and unexceptional…,” the brief continues. “And Joanna and Breanna, the artists and owners of Brush & Nib Studio, are entitled to exercise it. These women of deep religious faith gladly serve everyone, including those in the LGBT community; their faith simply prevents them from expressing certain messages for anyone. So this case is not about whether businesses can decline to serve an entire class of people. It is about whether artists can freely choose which messages their own art conveys.”
Phoenix interprets its ordinance, City Code Section 18-4(B), in a way that forces artists, such as Duka and Koski, to use their artistic talents to celebrate and promote same-sex marriage in violation of their beliefs. They decide which art they create based on the art’s message, not the requester’s personal characteristics.
It also bans them from publicly communicating which custom artwork they will or will not 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.
Numerous state attorneys general, Arizona lawmakers, various scholars, and a diverse array of business, artistic, and faith-based groups last month filed friend-of-the-court briefs with the Arizona Supreme Court in support of Duka and Koski and preserving artistic and religious freedom.