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Christian Artists in Arizona Still Fighting for Religious Freedom Following Masterpiece Decision

January 24, 2019

One of the big takeaways from the June 4 Supreme Court victory for Colorado cake artist Jack Phillips is that religious objections to same-sex marriage are not only valid, but in many instances, protected by the Constitution.

The interesting thing is, to affirm this point, Justice Anthony Kennedy referenced the very case that LGBT activists have used to try to purge religious beliefs about marriage from the public square—Obergefell.

Justice Kennedy, writing for the majority, put it this way:

At the same time, the religious and philosophical objections to gay marriage are protected views and in some instances protected forms of expression. As this Court observed in Obergefell v. Hodges, 576 U. S. (2015), “[t]he 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.

Unfortunately, that hasn’t stopped many states from enacting laws that treat religious beliefs about marriage as discriminatory regardless of the facts. And it certainly hasn’t stopped those same states from punishing or threatening artists with sincerely held beliefs about marriage who simply do not want to use their God-given talents to celebrate or promote same-sex marriages against their faith.

That’s the problem with the Arizona Court of Appeals’ recent ruling against artistic and religious freedom in the case of Brush & Nib Studio v. City of Phoenix.

The case involves two local artists: Breanna Koski, a painter, and Joanna Duka, a calligrapher. These young women started Brush & Nib Studio with the goal of reflecting God’s beauty through their artwork. They create and sell custom prints, signs, business logos, wedding invitations, and more for clients and their special events.

While Brush & Nib gladly serves anyone regardless of their sexual orientation and gladly creates art for countless occasions, Breanna and Joanna do not feel they can use their God-given artistic talents to convey a message or celebrate an event that contradicts their beliefs.

And they shouldn’t have to.

But an Arizona law currently compels them to take on projects that conflict with their faith. In fact, Breanna and Joanna could be punished with fines and up to six months in jail if they decline to do so. Under the law, they could not even explain on their website what their beliefs are.

That’s why Alliance Defending Freedom filed a lawsuit on Brush & Nib’s behalf against the City of Phoenix in 2016. And Breanna and Joanna refuse to give up their freedom without a fight.

“Artists shouldn’t be forced under threat of fines and jail time to create artwork contrary to their core convictions,” said ADF Senior Counsel Jon Scruggs. “The court’s decision allows the government to compel two artists who happily serve everyone to convey a message about marriage they disagree with. This contradicts basic freedoms our nation has always cherished…We intend to appeal the court’s decision.”

A decision that allows the government to punish Breanna and Joanna for not celebrating a government-favored viewpoint has no place in a free country. Our nation has a long history of protecting the right of peaceful citizens to disagree. Yet the government could threaten these two young artists for simply living and working consistently with their faith.

But there is good news. The Masterpiece decision indicates that courts should seriously consider objections to same-sex marriage. This is a big deal.

Ever since the Obergefell decision redefined marriage, anti-religious activists have acted like the decision also redefined freedom. That’s simply not the case. 

The First Amendment’s enduring promise is that people of good will who hold beliefs disfavored by the government are free to live out those beliefs. Phoenix’s position contradicts this principle by treating certain religious beliefs about marriage as discriminatory and unlawful.

The fact is, countless people of good will—from faith traditions as diverse as Islam and Christianity—believe that marriage is the union of a man and a woman. No one should be bullied or banished from the marketplace for peacefully living out that belief.

But it seems if Phoenix had its way, that’s exactly what would happen to Christian artists like Breanna and Joanna. And that’s why the fight for freedom for Brush & Nib must continue.

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