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Phoenix artists to court: Protect our expression from government control

ADF attorney available to media following hearing in lawsuit challenging city ordinance

Thursday, Aug 24, 2017
WHO: Alliance Defending Freedom Senior Counsel Jonathan Scruggs
WHAT: Available for media interviews following hearing in Brush & Nib Studio v. City of Phoenix
WHEN: Friday, Aug. 25, immediately following hearing, which begins at 8:30 a.m. Arizona time  
WHERE: Maricopa Superior Court, East Court Building, 101 W. Jefferson St., 8th Floor, Courtroom 814, Phoenix

PHOENIX – Two Phoenix artists are heading to state court Friday to defend their artistic freedom against a sweeping Phoenix ordinance that uses the threat of jail time and fines to silence their desired speech and to force them to create custom artwork expressing messages that violate their core beliefs.

Alliance Defending Freedom Senior Counsel Jonathan Scruggs, who represents the artists in their civil liberties lawsuit, will be available for media interviews following his argument at Friday’s hearing that the ordinance illegally controls artistic expression—violating the freedom of Joanna Duka and Breanna Koski of Brush & Nib Studio to choose which messages to convey and refrain from conveying.

“No American should be threatened with jail time for disagreeing with the government,” said Scruggs. “The government must allow artists to make their own decisions about which messages they will promote. Breanna and Joanna are happy to create custom art for all people; they simply object to being forced to pour their heart, imagination, and talent into creating messages that violate their consciences.”

Duka and Koski specialize in hand-painting, hand-lettering, and calligraphy for weddings and other events. The women’s deeply held religious beliefs guide them in determining which messages they can and cannot promote through their commissioned artwork.

The city’s ordinance forces the young women to use their artistic talents to celebrate and promote same-sex marriages in violation of their beliefs. It also bans them from publicly communicating their Christian belief that God designed marriage as a union between one man and woman and from explaining how that belief affects the artwork they can create.

In a pre-enforcement challenge to City Code Section 18-4(B), ADF attorneys argue that the ordinance violates the Arizona Constitution and Arizona’s Free Exercise of Religion Act. Phoenix officials have construed the ordinance to force artists, like Duka and Koski, to create objectionable art, even though they decide what art they can create based on the art’s message, not the requester’s personal characteristics.

The Phoenix ordinance also includes a censorship provision that prohibits businesses, including artists, from publicly communicating any message that “implies” someone would be “unwelcome” or “not solicited” based upon the person’s sexual orientation. If Duka and Koski explain their position on marriage publicly, they risk up to six months in jail, a $2,500 fine, and three years of probation for each day they violate the ordinance.

ADF attorneys also represent cake artist Jack Phillips and Masterpiece Cakeshop in another artistic freedom case, which is currently before the U.S. Supreme Court.
Alliance Defending Freedom is an alliance-building, non-profit legal organization that advocates for the right of people to freely live out their faith.
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