CREATE FREELYArtists threatened with jail time

The Story of Brush & Nib Studio

In January 2015, after first meeting at a Bible study where they learned about their mutual passions for art, two young women met at a North Phoenix coffee shop. As they sipped their tea and hot chocolate, they hatched a plan. They decided to create and sell art together by starting a calligraphy and hand-painting business.

One of these women — Joanna Duka — had already left her full-time marketing job. The other — Breanna Koski — had no job, had just moved to town, and had just gotten married.

Phoenix artists Joanna Duka and Breanna Koski are taking a stand against a coercive city law that violates their right to create freely.

A passion to recreate God’s beauty

Neither Joanna nor Breanna had ever started a business like this. They had little money. They had no business background. But they did have a passion — to use their God-given talents to create beautiful artwork for others. That passion produced Brush & Nib Studio, a for-profit art studio that creates hand-drawn invitations and paintings for weddings, businesses, and everyday moments.

As Christian artists, Joanna and Breanna had a simple goal for their studio: to recreate the beauty God placed all around us and to share that beauty with others. This goal made it natural for Joanna and Breanna to focus on artwork for weddings, one of the most beautiful days in someone’s life.

But this focus on weddings drove Joanna and Breanna straight into a problem. Phoenix law required Brush & Nib to create art and speak according to Phoenix’s definition of marriage.

Confronted with an impossible choice

As Joanna and Breanna were starting their business, they kept seeing news reports about authorities forcing Christians in the wedding industry to promote same-sex wedding ceremonies. Meanwhile, their friends began to ask them if Brush & Nib would do so.

Then Joanna and Breanna saw the ensuing social media frenzy over the U.S. Supreme Court creating a constitutional right to same-sex marriage. They realized that they may not have the freedom to create art consistent with their artistic and religious beliefs. They had to find out for sure.

What they found was worse than they imagined. A Phoenix law required Brush & Nib to create invitations and other artwork for same-sex wedding ceremonies. It also prevented Brush & Nib from explaining to customers and the public why they could only create art consistent with their beliefs about marriage.

“Beautiful handwriting has been one of my passions since I was a little girl. As a teenager, I received my first calligraphy set and fell in love with dipping the pen in ink and creating thick and thin lines with the delicate nib.”
— Joanna Duka

The Phoenix law did all this through criminal penalties. For each day Joanna and Breanna followed their religious beliefs and disobeyed the law, they would each be penalized up to $2,500 and six months in jail.

That left Joanna and Breanna with an impossible choice. They didn’t want to violate the law. They didn’t want to go to jail and pay $2,500 for each day they failed to comply. They didn’t want to close the business they poured so much into.

But the alternative wasn’t doable. They could not compromise their artistic and religious beliefs. They could not accept sitting down in their studio and hand-drawing artwork that contradicted who they are and what they hold dear.

They could not condone lying to customers or wasting customers’ time — telling customers that Brush & Nib would create something it couldn’t. And they could not stomach staying silent about the very beliefs that inspire their art.

"Creating beauty with a brush is something that puts a smile on my face. I love seeing all the tiny details come together to achieve a dramatic finish. It is so rewarding to see a finished product in the hands of another.”  — Breanna Koski

They decided to challenge an unjust law

So Joanna and Breanna took the only viable option left. In May 2016, Alliance Defending Freedom filed a lawsuit on their and Brush & Nib’s behalf against the City of Phoenix.

The lawsuit alleged that Phoenix is violating Joanna, Breanna, and Brush & Nib’s rights under the Arizona Constitution and the Arizona Free Exercise of Religion Act by compelling them to create art they object to and by stopping them from discussing their artistic and religious beliefs with others.

“The government shouldn’t be telling artists what they can and can’t say.”
— Breanna Koski

The lawsuit asked the Arizona court to give Joanna, Breanna, and Brush & Nib the freedom to create artwork consistent with their artistic and religious beliefs and to explain these beliefs to others.

When the Arizona Court of Appeals allowed the sweeping Phoenix ordinance to stand, the artists appealed to the Arizona Supreme Court.

“Artists shouldn’t be forced to create artwork contrary to their core convictions, and certainly not under threat of criminal fines and jail time,” said ADF Senior Counsel Jonathan Scruggs, who argued the case before the Court of Appeals. “The government must allow artists to make their own decisions about which messages they will promote.”

As Joanna, Breanna, and Brush & Nib await the Arizona Supreme Court ruling, they continue to create art reflecting God’s beauty. And they hope to soon have the freedom to only create that art and to fully explain their artistic and religious beliefs to others.

The government could target you

Unless we join together and turn the tide, it’s only a matter of time until some authority requires you to violate your faith and celebrate same-sex marriage … until you and your church are censored and punished for preaching biblical values … until you are compelled by law to call what is good, evil, and what is evil, good … until you are forbidden from living or speaking out your faith.

Since May 2016, ADF has filed five other lawsuits like the one we filed for Joanna and Breanna. We did this to protect our clients’ freedom to run their churches and businesses consistently with their faith. These suits were filed to protect a variety of clients from unjust laws across America:

  • Wisconsin — for a photography studio
  • Iowa — for a church
  • Massachusetts — to defend four different churches
  • Colorado — to protect a website and graphic design company
  • Minnesota — for a film and video studio

The good news is that through the generous financial support that you and others provide, Alliance Defending Freedom is regularly winning important cases. Because of these victories, we have good reason for hope.

But this momentum will last only if you and others give to help fund the battle.

You can further the impact of the challenge grant

Alliance Defending Freedom has established a strong record of success in defending your religious freedom. But your help is critically needed now. Because, for Joanna and Breanna, and many others, the fight is not over.

God has shown us time and time again that when we stand together to protect religious freedom, we can be victorious. But protecting religious freedom isn’t “someone else’s fight.” It’s your fight. It’s our fight.

A generous Christian family has given a $2 million challenge grant to help provide a strong legal defense for Joanna and Breanna, and other Christians like them. Through the challenge grant, you'll join others in making an even greater impact for freedom.

About Alliance Defending Freedom

Alliance Defending Freedom is an alliance-building, nonprofit legal organization that advocates for the right of people to freely live out their faith.

ADF was launched in 1994 by 35 ministry leaders, including Dr. James Dobson, Dr. D. James Kennedy, Dr. Bill Bright, and Larry Burkett.

With God’s blessing, ADF has grown from the prayers of those godly leaders to become a major force in the legal battle for religious freedom, winning nearly 80% of our cases, including nine victories at the U.S. Supreme Court since 2011.