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Groups voice support for Phoenix artists religious liberty in court

Phoenix artists challenging law that threatens them with jail time for abiding by their beliefs

Arizona state legislators, a publisher, and a variety of religious groups filed friend-of-the-court briefs with the Arizona Supreme Court in support of preserving artistic and religious freedom. The briefs support two Phoenix artists who face fines and up to six months of jail time if they violate a sweeping Phoenix criminal law that forces them to design and create custom artwork expressing messages that violate their core beliefs.

Attorneys representing artists, owners of Brush & Nib Studio, asked the high court in July to take the case because Phoenix interprets its ordinance in a way that illegally controls artistic expression and tramples religious liberty—violating the freedom of Duka and Koski to choose which messages they will convey and refrain from conveying consistent with their religious beliefs. In a June ruling, the Arizona Court of Appeals decided to allow Phoenix to override Duka and Koski’s artistic and religious decisions.

“As the briefs filed last week affirm, no one should 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 the case before the Arizona Court of Appeals.

“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,” said Scruggs.

“These briefs are asking the Arizona Supreme Court to consider critical questions and provide Arizonans with needed clarity about their fundamental freedoms,” said ADF Legal Counsel Samuel Green. “Related questions have received the attention of the highest courts of multiple states and even the U.S. Supreme Court in the Masterpiece Cakeshop case. This matter warrants the Arizona Supreme Court’s attention as well.”

Other parties filing briefs asking the Arizona Supreme Court to consider Brush & Nib Studio v. City of Phoenix include the Center for Religious Expression, the Jewish Coalition for Religious Liberty, Tyndale House Publishers, and the National Center for Law & Policy.

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 interprets its ordinance in a way that 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.

In the pre-enforcement challenge to Phoenix City Code Section 18-4(B), a public accommodation law, ADF attorneys argue that the ordinance violates the Arizona Constitution and Arizona’s Free Exercise of Religion Act. Phoenix officials have interpreted the ordinance to force artists, like Duka and Koski, to create objectionable art, even though they decide what art they can create based on the art’s message, not the requester’s personal characteristics.

— CNJ staff report

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