Facing threat of jail time, artists appeal to court

by christiannewsjournal
Breanna Koski and Joanna Duka

Under threat of up to six months jail time, two Phoenix artists will be in court Monday, April 23, seeking to stop a sweeping city ordinance from forcing them to design and create custom artwork expressing messages that violate their core beliefs.

Artists Joanna Duka and Breanna Koski, owners of Brush & Nib Studio, and one of their attorneys, Kate Anderson, Alliance Defending Freedom Legal Counsel, will be in court on arguing for their religious freedom on Monday, April 23.

The civil liberties lawsuit challenges the Phoenix ordinance because it illegally controls artistic expression—violating the freedom of Duka and Koski to choose which messages they will convey and refrain from conveying.

“All Americans should be free to live and work according to their deeply held beliefs without fear of imprisonment and other penalties,” said ADF Senior Counsel Jonathan Scruggs, who will argue before the court Monday. “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.”

In 2017, a lower court ruled that Phoenix can use a criminal law to force Duka and Koski to create messages that violate their deeply held beliefs and to ban them from explaining how their religious beliefs affect the artwork they can create. The argument on Monday relates to an appeal of that ruling.

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.

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 how their Christian belief that God designed marriage as a union between one man and one woman affects the custom artwork they can create. 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

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