Art paintbrushes

With all the court rulings recently protecting speech, and especially religious speech, unresolved cases still remain.

One is asking the Arizona Supreme Court to overturn a Phoenix law controlling the speech of artists, specifically two Christians who run a calligraphy company.

An appeal has been filed with the high court by the Alliance Defending Freedom on behalf of Joanna Duka and Breanna Koski, who run Brush & Nib Studio.

The women face up to six months in jail if they refuse to promote same-sex marriages with their business.

But doing so, they explain, would violate their freedom of artistic expression and constitutional right to decide which messages they will adopt.

Judges Lawrence Winthrop, Jennifer Campbell and Paul McMurdie on the Arizona Court of Appeals affirmed the city’s restrictions on speech.

So ADF has filed a brief with the Arizona Supreme Court citing several recent decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court. They include the ruling upholding Colorado baker Jack Phillips’ right to refuse to bake a cake to promote same-sex marriage and the decision against California’s requirement that pro-life crisis pregnancy centers must promote abortion businesses.

“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 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. 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.”

He said the court’s decision “allows the government to compel two artists who happily serve everyone to convey a message about marriage they disagree with.”

“This contradicts basic freedoms our nation has always cherished,” he said.

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

But the city’s ordinance “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.”

The ADF brief said that if the women “politely decline to create custom artwork celebrating same-sex weddings or publish their desired statement [explaining how their religious beliefs prevent them from creating certain artwork], Phoenix will prosecute them.”

“But the [Court of Appeals] upheld this application as consistent with Arizona’s free-speech and free-exercise protections. This court should grant this petition to clarify whether public accommodation laws trump free-speech and free-exercise rights, to correct the COA’s narrow understanding of these important freedoms, and to align Arizona’s jurisprudence with recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions.

“Art is ‘speech itself,’ and so a law compelling art compels speech.”

The city’s position, as it now stands, could be interpreted to “force paid Democratic speechwriters to write for Republican politicians,” the filing explains.

WND reported last month when the Court of Appeals sided with the Phoenix speech restrictions.

The case was triggered by the LGBT advocacy by the city of Phoenix.

The lower court judges lashed out at the artists, charging that they “are not the first to attempt to use their religious beliefs to justify practices others consider overtly discriminatory.”

The judges refused to admit that creating custom wedding invitations and artwork was “expressive conduct.”


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