Arizona’s Supreme Court handed religious freedom advocates a major victory Monday, ruling that the city of Phoenix cannot force two Christian artists to create custom wedding invitations for same-sex ceremonies.
At issue was a Phoenix ordinance that forbids businesses from denying services to customers based on sexual orientation. Violators could be jailed up to six months and/or fined $2,500 each day they are in violation.
Joanna Duka and Breanna Koski, two Christians who own Brush & Nib Studio, filed suit against the city, saying their religious beliefs prevent them from designing any artwork or wedding invitations for same-sex weddings. Their business creates and designs custom artwork with hand painting, hand lettering and calligraphy.
The Arizona Supreme Court, in a 4-3 decision, sided with the women and ruled the city’s ordinance – as applied to Duka and Koski – violates their free speech and religious liberty rights under the Arizona Constitution and their rights protected by the state’s Free Exercise of Religion Act.
“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. “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.”
Duka and Koski’s beliefs about same-sex marriage “may seem old-fashioned” or “even offensive to some,” Gould wrote, but “the guarantees of free speech and freedom of religion are not only for those who are deemed sufficiently enlightened, advanced, or progressive. They are for everyone.”
“After all,” Gould wrote, “while our own ideas may be popular today, they may not be tomorrow.”
The majority decision quoted U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy’s decision that legalized same-sex marriage nationwide: “The First Amendment ensures that religious organizations and persons are given proper protection as they seek to teach the principles that are so fulfilling and so central to their lives and faiths, and to their own deep aspirations to continue the family structure they have long revered.”
Duka and Koski “must, and they do, serve all customers regardless of their sexual orientation,” Gould wrote. But they cannot be forced to “express a message contrary to their deepest convictions,” he wrote.
Gould said the decision was “limited to Plaintiffs’ creation of custom wedding invitations that are materially similar to those contained in the record.” Still, it was a major win for Duka and Koski, who lost at two lower courts.
Alliance Defending Freedom represented the women.
“Joanna and Breanna work with all people; they just don’t promote all messages,” said ADF senior counsel Jonathan Scruggs. “... Joanna and Breanna will now be able to create custom wedding invitations and to communicate about their beliefs without fear of government punishment, as any artist should be free to do. This isn’t just a victory for them. It’s a victory for everyone.”
Jennifer Pizer, of the gay rights organization Lambda Legal, said the ruling “alarmingly cracks open the door to religion and free speech protections being misused as weapons against LGBTQ people and families.”
Michael Foust is a freelance writer. Visit his blog, MichaelFoust.com.
Photo courtesy: Aegean Wedding Photography/Unsplash