In an Alliance Defending Freedom case involving two Christian artists, Joanna Duka and Breanna Koski of Brush & Nib Studio, an Arizona state court recently issued a decision that takes an incredibly narrow view of religious freedom. The court ruled that the law protects religious practices like proselytizing, preaching, and praying, but does not protect honoring God with words and paintings. On this theory, those who make a living as preachers and missionaries regularly exercise their faith in a way that’s protected, but those who make a living as God-honoring artists do not. So much for the Bible’s mandate for Christians: “[W]hatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31).
This ruling came after Joanna and Breanna went to court to protect themselves and their new business. They filed a pre-enforcement lawsuit to secure their freedom to use the artistic talents God gave them in a manner that honors God, to publish what they believe, and to prevent a Phoenix law from forcing them to use their hearts, minds, hands, and souls to create original, artistic works that fly in the face of their deepest religious beliefs.
You may be saying to yourself, “Why did they need to ask for such basic freedoms? Of course they have the right to free speech and religious freedom!” Unfortunately, Phoenix refuses to recognize freedom for artists if they sell art to the public. In Phoenix’s view, once artists take such a fateful step, they surrender their freedom and bid adieu to their dreams of making a living through artwork glorifying God.
Because Brush & Nib Studio creates artwork celebrating God’s design for marriage as a lifelong union between one man and one woman, Phoenix believes it can force Joanna and Breanna to violate their consciences by making them create custom artwork glorifying and promoting same-sex marriage.
With the stakes so high—with jail time and harsh fines on the line—Joanna and Breanna asked a Phoenix court for relief. But the court rejected Joanna and Breanna’s plea, concluding that Phoenix’s draconian law did not burden their protected religious beliefs in any way. The decision is startling, especially considering that the court knew things like the following:
- Joanna and Breanna affirm and wish to publish the following statement on their website: “We believe that God created marriage as a life-long union exclusively for one man and one woman. . . . We can’t promote a marriage that God says isn’t really marriage.”
- Joanna sat on the witness stand and gave the following testimony under oath: “When I create a custom piece of art, I’m putting my vision and my heart and soul into that piece of art and I am participating in and giving my heart to that event and I’m celebrating it. So to do that for something that I don’t believe in as a Christian would violate my conscience . . . .”
- The court saw examples of Joanna and Breanna’s custom wedding invitations that they artistically tailor to beautify each couple’s impending union and encourage the recipients to join the happy couple in celebrating the upcoming marriage.
The court’s decision is contrary to America’s rich tradition of ensuring that people can live and work in accordance with their deepest beliefs without facing unjust punishment at the hands of the very government that is supposed to protect their rights. With the great diversity America enjoys, we’re in grave danger if a city or a court can pick and choose which sincerely-held beliefs deserve protection and which do not. But we can take heart. Joanna and Breanna are pressing on in their battle to ensure religious freedom. They’re appealing to a higher court—the Arizona Court of Appeals—with the hope that it will recognize their obligations to an even higher authority.