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HUGE WIN for Brush & Nib Studio! Arizona Supreme Court Upholds Freedom of Two Phoenix Artists

By Sarah Kramer posted on:
September 13, 2019

Jail time and fines.

Those are the real threats Joanna Duka and Breanna Koski, the owners and artists of Brush & Nib Studio, faced under a Phoenix law. Why? Because they would only imagine and create custom artwork expressing messages and celebrating events consistent with their core convictions.

Joanna and Breanna could not contradict their deeply held beliefs. And they did not want to abandon the artwork they love and the studio they worked so hard to create. So Joanna and Breanna took a stand—not just for themselves, but for everyone’s freedom to express messages consistent with their beliefs.

Today that stand was rewarded! The Arizona Supreme Court ruled in favor of Joanna and Breanna, recognizing that Phoenix cannot force artists to express messages or celebrate events that violate their beliefs. Praise God!

This is a HUGE WIN for religious freedom and freedom of speech.

Here’s how this all came about.

In 2015, Joanna and Breanna started Brush & Nib Studio, an art studio that specializes in creating custom artwork to celebrate some of life’s most important events—like weddings and births. Joanna, a calligrapher, and Breanna, a painter, can spend hours or days collaborating together to create something beautiful to celebrate a special event. They pour themselves into their artwork, striving to reflect God’s beauty in everything they create.

As Christians, Joanna and Breanna seek to run their business consistently with their faith. Their faith inspires them to love and serve everyone. And it also means they cannot express messages or celebrate events that violate their beliefs for anyone.

But soon after launching their studio, Joanna and Breanna discovered that Phoenix interprets its law to require them to create custom artwork expressing messages that violate their convictions.

According to Phoenix, if Joanna and Breanna design and create custom wedding invitations to celebrate marriages between a man and a woman, they must do the same to celebrate same-sex weddings. If they politely declined, Phoenix law threatened criminal penalties—including up to six months in jail and $2,500 in fines for each day that Phoenix decided they were not in compliance.

But Alliance Defending Freedom represented Joanna and Breanna in court, arguing that this coercion violates fundamental protections for freedom of speech and religion. And the Arizona Supreme Court agreed, issuing a strong decision protecting religious liberty and free speech! As the court explained, “an individual has autonomy over his or her speech and thus may not be forced to speak a message he or she does not wish to say.”

Now, Joanna and Breanna can continue to live and work consistently with their beliefs without fear of government punishment.

This is an important victory for religious freedom and freedom of speech. And we are grateful for all your prayers and support during the last few years as this case made its way through the courts. Now, we must keep this momentum going because these challenges to freedom continue.

After all, Joanna and Breanna are not the only ones who have seen their government seek to punish them for their beliefs. Alliance Defending Freedom also represents a graphic designer in Colorado, filmmakers in Minnesota, a floral artist in Washington, and a promotional printer in Kentucky in similar lawsuits.

If the government can compel artists to speak messages and celebrate events against their faith, what’s to say they won’t seek to coerce the rest of us? A win for these creative professionals is a win for us all.

ADF remains committed to working toward a day when all people are free to peacefully live out their beliefs without fear of government punishment.

Sarah Kramer

Sarah Kramer

Digital Content Specialist

Sarah worked as an investigative reporter before joining the Alliance Defending Freedom team.

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