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Artistic freedom for all is a right that needs protection

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When Joanna Duka and Breanna Koski met, they would never have imagined they would be heading to the Arizona Supreme Court because of a Phoenix law that threatens jail time and criminal fines if they decline to create artwork that violates their core religious convictions. After all, the Constitution protects expression, both artistic and religious. And it was their love of art and faith that brought them together in the first place.

The two women met at a Phoenix-area Bible study after Joanna spoke about feeling overwhelmed in starting an art studio focused on calligraphy. Breanna encouraged her and explained that she was a painter but was too afraid to start her own business. Joanna jumped at that information. She had been hoping to collaborate with a skilled painter, and she loved Breanna’s artwork. Pulled together by their shared Christian faith and artistic vision, the young women decided to start an art studio together, Brush & Nib Studio, named after each of their artistic contributions.

Together, Joanna and Breanna set to work imagining, designing, and creating custom pieces for weddings, special events, and every-day moments. Whether through prints or signs, invitations or wedding programs, they found a love for serving all customers from all walks of life and delighted in sharing what they considered beautiful with others.

Kate Anderson

Kate Anderson

As their art increasingly revolved around weddings, they found their voice in celebrating marriage as God designed it, but they also realized that, because of their Christian faith, they could only celebrate marriages between one man and one woman. It is that belief that landed them in court, to defend their right — and every person’s right — to live and work according to their beliefs.

Every person can think of beliefs they cannot in good conscience promote. For some, it might center around immigration, gun ownership, or animal rights. For others, it may be political or religious in nature. But in Phoenix, Joanna and Breanna face jail and criminal fines if they operate their studio consistent with their beliefs.

In fact, they can’t even talk about the impact of those beliefs on their art without incurring additional criminal penalties.

That’s not freedom. A government that can force one artist to create artistic expression in violation of their conscience can force anyone to do the same. Not only will a Christian artist be compelled to create art for a religious ceremony that contradicts her beliefs, but an atheist singer can be forced to perform at an Easter service, a Muslim graphic designer can be required to create promotional materials for a Friends of Israel rally, and an LGBT photographer can be made to photograph a Westboro Baptist rally. There is no end to a government empowered to impose its beliefs on individuals in any context.

In addition to the Phoenix law’s threat of six months in jail, $2,500 in fines, and three years of probation for each day the law is violated, the ordinance goes a step further. It bans Joanna and Breanna from publicly communicating what custom artwork they can and can’t create consistent with their faith.

Fortunately, the Arizona Supreme Court agreed to take their case, which will be argued on January 22. Joanna and Breanna will go there to defend everyone’s freedom to live by their convictions. Society is more diverse, more just, and more free when free expression is zealously protected. We should all hope it is in this case.

Kate Anderson is senior counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom and represents Brush & Nib Studio in its lawsuit against the city of Phoenix.

3 comments

  1. There is no religious foundation in discrimination. Christianity has inclusive principles like all the other religions: Love your neighbors like yourself. Be a good Samaritan. Ruth and Naomi.

    Using religion to sanction discrimination is ruining the religion. It makes me ashamed of so called “Christians’ who are nothing more than haters and hypocrites.

  2. Duka and Koski, and the author of this opinion piece are confusing fine art with applied art. Wikipedia explains it pretty well here: “The applied arts are all the arts that apply design and decoration to everyday objects in order to make them aesthetically pleasing. The term is used in distinction to the fine arts that produce objects solely to be beautiful or stimulate the intellect.” Clear evidence of this distinction is the business model surrounding the two functions. Duka and Koski established their business to provide design and decoration of utilitarian objects. A fine art studio might accept a commission to create a work of art, but what the resulting art might look like and what ideas it might convey would not be utilitarian; it would solely be about beauty, ideas, and feelings. The difference is similar to the difference between writing a news story, where the journalist is obliged to try to be objective, and an opinion piece, where the writer has no such obligation. A journalist who writes a story intentionally omitting or misrepresenting facts can be charged with libel; an opinion writer who argues with faulty reasoning cannot. I hope pray that the judge or judges who rule on this will understand the distinction between fine and applied art, between artistic expression and the provision of service to design and decorate utilitarian objects.

  3. It doesn’t matter if these two lawbreakers met in Bible school or not, they want to use religion as a way to discriminate against people. What if they wanted to say “No Black Customers” or “We don’t serve Mexicans.”
    They have a for-profit business selling wedding invitations, and they have to obey the law and treat everyone the same. They have no right to impose their backward religious beliefs on customers.

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