In a 4-3 opinion, The Arizona Supreme Court has ruled in favor of Phoenix-based Brush & Nib Studio, a small business that refused to produce wedding invitations for LGBTQ couples.
(Read the Arizona Supreme Court ruling below:)
“The rights of free speech and free exercise, so precious to this nation since its founding, are not limited to soft murmurings behind the doors of a person’s home or church, or private conversations with like-minded friends and family," wrote Justice Andrew Gould for the majority. "These guarantees protect the right of every American to express their beliefs in public. This includes the right to create and sell words, paintings, and art that express a person’s sincere religious beliefs.
With these fundamental principles in mind, today we hold that the City of Phoenix ... cannot apply its Human Relations Ordinance ... to force Joanna Duka and Breanna Koski, owners of Brush & Nib Studio, LC (“Brush & Nib”), to create custom wedding invitations celebrating same-sex wedding ceremonies in violation of their sincerely held religious beliefs. Duka, Koski, and Brush & Nib (“Plaintiffs”) have the right to refuse to express such messages under article 2, section 6 of the Arizona Constitution, as well as Arizona’s Free Exercise of Religion Act (“FERA”), A.R.S. § 41-1493.01."
The case pitted the business owners against the city of Phoenix, with key elements including the concepts of artistic freedom, religious rights, and anti-discrimination laws.
The case began in May 2016, after Brush & Nib and its owners claimed that a Phoenix anti-discrimination law violated their artistic and religious freedom. They filed a lawsuit in Maricopa County Superior Court.
Artist Breanna Koski and calligrapher Joanna Duka founded Brush & Nib Studio in 2015. The company specializes in hand-painting and hand-lettering for weddings, special events, and home decor. They also sell ready-made products such as signs and thank-you cards.
The business owners said that Phoenix City Code 18-4(B)(1)-(3) prevented them from exercising artistic and religious freedom by requiring that they create wedding invitations for same-sex couples.
Adopted in 2013, the ordinance prohibits discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, marital status, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or disability. It applies to businesses offering services to the general public.
Brush & Nib Studio is represented by Scottsdale-based Alliance Defending Freedom, a legal advocacy and training group founded in 1994 to promote what it calls religious freedom, marriage and family, and the sanctity of life.
The Alliance Defending Freedom has been designated as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, which condemns the alliance for its "anti-LGBT ideology."
The alliance’s clients include Jack Phillips, a Colorado baker who refused to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple in 2012. That case, Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, went all the way to the U. S. Supreme Court. In June 2018, the court ruled in Phillips’ favor in a 7-2 decision.
The Alliance Defending Freedom announced that it intends to hold a press conference with the Brush & Nib owners this afternoon.
Today’s decision follows a previous court decision that went against Brush & Nib.
In October 2017, Maricopa Country Superior Judge Karen A. Mullins ruled that the city code in question does not violate the studio's right to free speech, or the free exercise of religion.
Under that ruling, the studio couldn’t legally refuse to sell their custom-made products to same-sex couples, or post a statement on their website saying that same-sex couples aren't welcome as customers. That decision was affirmed by the Arizona Court of Appeals in June of 2018.
Brush & Nib Studio responded by asking the Arizona Supreme Court to hear the case, resulting in today's opinion.
"The city of Phoenix’s anti-discrimination ordinance is still a legal, valid law and remains in effect," the city said in a statement after the ruling. "It currently affirms that everyone should be treated fairly and equally regardless of sexual orientation, race, religion, sex, gender or disability...
"The Arizona Supreme Court made a very narrow ruling that one local business has the right to refuse to make custom wedding invitations for same-sex couples’ weddings that are similar to the designer’s previous products. This ruling does not apply to any other business in Phoenix. The city of Phoenix has had an anti-discrimination ordinance since 1964 to protect all residents and believes that everyone should be treated equally."
Koski and Duka spoke at Alliance Defending Freedom's Scottsdale office in a press conference with lawyer Jonathan Scruggs.
"This is a win not just for Breanna Koski and me; it is a win for everyone," calligrapher Joanna Duka said at a press conference in the Scottsdale office of Alliance Defending Freedom. "Everyone should be free to live and work according to their beliefs."
For artist Breanna Koski, the case was all about "who should decide what artists say through their work, the artist or the government."
"We cannot separate our art from our faith; they are deeply interwoven," she said.
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Although the court clearly states that its ruling applies only to this particular business and this particular set of circumstances, the attorney for Brush & Nib said it has broader implications.
"Today freedom won," Scruggs said. "A government that can crush Joanna and Breanna can crush us all." Scruggs noted that they're watching similar cases in other parts of the country, and hoping the issue will eventually make it's way to the U.S. Supreme Court.
(This story was updated to include quotes after the ruling from the city of Phoenix and the plaintiffs.)