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Calligraphers face jail time for not promoting same-sex ‘weddings’

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PHOENIX, Arizona, July 13, 2018 (LifeSiteNews) -- Two Arizona calligraphy artists faced with fines and jail time for declining to take part in promoting gay “weddings” are asking the state’s Supreme Court to hear their challenge to the city of Phoenix’s law that compels them create artwork that violates their religious beliefs.

Joanna Duka and Breanna Koski, owners of Brush & Nib Studio, face up to six months in jail, $2,500 in fines, and three years of probation for each day that there is a violation of Phoenix City Code 18-4 (B).

Not only are the Christian women threatened jail time and fines should they refuse to create artwork celebrating gay “marriage” because of the Phoenix law, they could also be prosecuted for publishing a statement on their website explaining that their religious convictions prohibits them from doing so.

The women, represented by Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), are asking the Arizona Supreme Court to take the case because “the Phoenix ordinance illegally controls artistic expression,” according to ADF, “violating the freedom of Duka and Koski to choose which messages they will convey and refrain from conveying.” 

“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.

“The government must allow artists to make their own decisions about which messages they will promote,” Scruggs said. “Breanna and Joanna are happy to design custom art for all people; they simply object to being forced to pour their heart, soul, imagination, and talent into creating messages that violate their conscience.”

Scruggs argued the case before the Arizona Court of Appeals (COA). The Court of Appeals had ruled in June that the Phoenix law would stand.

Despite the fact that Duka and Koski willingly serve any customer regardless of their sexual orientation, and are only declining to produce custom messages endorsing events that violate their beliefs, the Arizona Court of Appeals ruled that their case was “one of a blanket refusal of service to the LGBTQ community,” so the studio’s services were not “entitled to First Amendment free speech protections.”

The Arizona appeals court cited the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling upholding Colorado baker Jack Phillips’ right to refuse to bake a cake promoting same-sex “marriage” in its decision.

The Supreme Court had ruled in June that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission had exhibited hostility to Phillips’ religious beliefs, but the Arizona COP ruling stated in its ruling there was no evidence to support the suggestion that the city of Phoenix in enacting ordinance “has been anything other than neutral toward and respectful of their sincerely-expressed religious beliefs.”

ADF filed an appeal to the Arizona Supreme Court earlier this week. In it the legal group cites several U.S. Supreme Court decisions, including the Masterpiece Cakeshop ruling, and the decision against the California law requiring pro-life crisis pregnancy centers to promote abortion businesses.

The petition seeks clarification on whether the Phoenix ordinance violates the Arizona Constitution’s Free Speech Clause and the state’s Free Exercise of Religion.

The city of Phoenix passed the public accommodation law in 2013. ADF filed a pre-enforcement challenge to the law on behalf of Duka and Koski in 2016, arguing that the ordinance violates the Arizona Constitution and Arizona’s Free Exercise of Religion Act.

Phoenix officials have interpreted the ordinance to force artists, like Duka and Koski, to create objectionable art, according to ADF, even though the women decide what art they can create based on the art’s message, not the requester’s personal characteristics.

Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Karen Mullins ruled last October that the Phoenix ordinance was constitutional and did not violate the free exercise of religious beliefs, writing that Phoenix can force Brush & Nib to take part in homosexual events.

ADF’s petition to the Arizona Supreme Court notes that the majority of Duka and Koski’s custom artwork is wedding related, that all of their custom wedding invitations “include language that is celebratory of the wedding,” and that they have previously created a wedding sign with a Bible verse about God joining together two people as “one flesh” in marriage.

Duka and Koski focus on the message because their Christian beliefs forbid them from creating “custom artwork that conveys messages condoning, supporting, or participating in activities or ideas that violate their religious beliefs,” its says.

Phoenix is requiring the women to create all of these forms of custom artwork for same-sex weddings, ADF argues.

“If Joanna and Breanna politely decline to create custom artwork celebrating same-sex weddings or publish their desired statement [explaining how their religious beliefs prevent them from creating certain artwork], Phoenix will prosecute them …” the petition states. “But the [Court of Appeals] upheld this application as consistent with Arizona’s free-speech and free-exercise protections. This Court should grant this petition to clarify whether public accommodation laws trump free-speech and free-exercise rights, to correct the COA’s narrow understanding of these important freedoms, and to align Arizona’s jurisprudence with recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions.”

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