Could 2019 be the “year of the creative professional”?
Throughout the United States, creative professionals are facing orders requiring them to design artistic expression that violates their consciences. Such laws violate core First Amendment freedoms.
An artist’s work is an act of self-expression. You simply cannot ask artists to separate themselves from their work, because their work is an extension of themselves and their deepest beliefs. But what some states and local governments are doing goes much further than that. They are requiring creative professionals to express messages that contradict their personal beliefs.
Thankfully, there are creative professionals across the country taking a stand for their freedoms. And as we enter 2019, several of them will see developments that could make or break their cases. Here are a few to watch in the New Year.
Joanna Duka and Breanna Koski, Calligrapher and Painter
When Joanna and Breanna started their art studio in Phoenix, they knew they would encounter obstacles—but they didn’t expect government-compelled speech to be one of them. The two young women started Brush & Nib Studio to create and sell hand-painted and hand-lettered artwork—wedding invitations, home décor, birth announcements, and more—for clients and their special events. Then they learned that Phoenix requires them to create artwork celebrating events that violate their convictions—and if they did not comply they could face steep fines and even jail time. Joanna and Breanna knew that they had to do something—so they decided to challenge this unjust law in court. Oral arguments for their case at the Arizona Supreme Court are set for later this month.
Jack Phillips, Cake Artist
Back in June 2018, it seemed like it was going to be almost a perfect year for Jack: He won his case at the United States Supreme Court. In a 7-to-2 decision, the Court ruled that the state had shown “impermissible hostility” toward Jack’s religious beliefs. But then, the same state agency decided to go after him a second time—this time because he declined to create a custom cake, with a blue exterior and a pink interior, celebrating an attorney’s transition from male to female. All Jack wants to do is live according to his beliefs and continue to run his business, but some Colorado officials seem determined to target him until he is forced to give up either his beliefs or his business. Jack had no choice but to sue the state of Colorado. His case is still in federal court.
Barronelle Stutzman, Floral Artist
You may have already heard Barronelle’s story. After serving a friend and customer Rob for nearly a decade, Barronelle declined to design custom floral arrangements for his same-sex wedding—a decision she did not make lightly. The Washington State Attorney General learned about the situation through social media and decided to sue Barronelle in both her professional and personal capacity. The ACLU soon filed another lawsuit against her. Now, if she loses, she could lose everything she owns. This summer, the United States Supreme Court sent Barronelle’s case back to the Washington Supreme Court to be reconsidered in light of the decision in Jack’s case. Barronelle is in the process of presenting her written arguments to the Washington Supreme Court.
Blaine Adamson, T-Shirt Printer
As managing owner of the promotional printing company Hands On Originals, Blaine loves taking customers’ ideas for shirt designs and making them better. But when Blaine declined to print one message that conflicted with his conscience, a message promoting a gay pride festival, he faced a lot of backlash—he lost customers, the mayor of his hometown spoke out against him, and a local commission punished him. Through it all, Blaine took strength from his faith and continued to follow his beliefs. Like Jack and Barronelle, Blaine has been dealing with this lawsuit for several years—he has won twice but the government continues to appeal. His case is currently at the Kentucky Supreme Court.
Carl and Angel Larsen, Filmmakers
Husband and wife team Carl and Angel have a passion for sharing their faith and for telling compelling stories through film. That is why they started their video production company, Telescope Media Group. They would like to bring their story-telling talents to the wedding industry and use their gifts to promote their religious beliefs about marriage.But in the state of Minnesota, where the Larsens live, a state law mandates that if they tell stories that are consistent with their beliefs about marriage, then they must tell stories about marriage that violate their beliefs as well. If the Larsens decline to do so, they could face punitive damages of up to $25,000 and 90 days in jail. The Larsens’ faith is integral to who they are, and they simply cannot express messages that violate their beliefs. So, like Joanna and Breanna, the Larsens are challenging this unfair law in federal court.
All of these creative professionals serve everyone. But, as artists, they simply cannot express all messages or celebrate all events—especially those that conflict with their consciences. Hopefully, in 2019, these clients will see their free-speech rights protected instead of threatened.