Phoenix artists Joanna Duka and Breanna Koski are facing the possibility of up to six months in prison and/or an ongoing $2,500 a day fine for their refusal to betray their Christian beliefs and make artwork for gay weddings. The pair, who own the Brush & Nib Studio, use calligraphy and hand-lettering as well as painting to create custom artwork on demand. But they ran afoul of Phoenix’s prohibition on sexual-orientation-based discrimination when they declined to make art for same-sex weddings. Now they are taking their case to the Arizona Supreme Court, where their lawyers insist that it is the city of Phoenix – not Duka and Koski – who are in violation of the law.
This case, as in all others that have to do with these so-called “discriminatory” Christians, is not as complicated as it seems on the surface. It’s actually quite clear. There is no constitutional way on Earth that a business owner could or should be forced by the government to commission products that violate their religious beliefs. This is a violation of both clauses of the First Amendment, abridging both their freedom of religion and their freedom of speech.
Liberals and gay activists are confused on a very basic point: It is one thing to discriminate against a gay customer and another to discriminate against a gay message. Business owners may not have any right to do the first, but they OF COURSE have the right to do the latter. And – like Jack Phillips in Colorado – there is no evidence whatsoever that Duka and Koski ever turned away a customer based on their sexual orientation. We assume that if the straightest man in America walked into their store, however, and asked them to create gay-themed artwork for his brother’s wedding, they would refuse. That cannot and must not be illegal.
“Simply stated, if appellants, as an economic entity, want to operate their for-profit business as a public accommodation, they cannot discriminate against potential patrons based on sexual orientation,” wrote the court in the artists’ first loss in the legal system.
And just like that, the judge had fallen for the exact mythology that allows these cases to exist in the first place. Because, of course, Duka and Koski did NOT discriminate against anyone based on their sexual orientation.
But Phoenix officials DID discriminate against Christians when penalizing the artists for their choice of conscience.
“Does Phoenix violate the Arizona Constitution’s Free Speech Clause when it forces commissioned artists to create custom artwork—consisting of words and paintings—conveying messages they object to and when it bans commissioned artists from publishing a statement explaining the artwork they can and cannot create?” asked the Alliance Defending Freedom in their petition to the Arizona Supreme Court. “Does Phoenix violate Arizona’s Free Exercise of Religion Act when it uses criminal penalties—including jail time—to force commissioned artists to create custom artwork expressing messages that violate their sincerely held religious beliefs and when it bans religiously motivated speech?”
The answers to these questions are obvious. It’s beyond time for a high court – by which we mean THE high court – to decide that once and for all. Until and unless they do, this is just going to keep happening.