Arizona Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Free Speech and Religious Rights

Phoenix city ordinance would penalize business up to $2,500 per day and six months of jail time

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• September 17, 2019 10:10 am


The Arizona Supreme Court ruled that the city of Phoenix cannot coerce Joanna Duka and Breanna Koski, owners of custom invitation designing business Brush & Nib, to provide a service that violates their religious beliefs. 

"Duka and Koski's beliefs about same-sex marriage may seem old-fashioned, or even offensive to some," the court said. "But the guarantees of free speech and freedom of religion are not only for those who are deemed sufficiently enlightened, advanced, or progressive. They are for everyone. After all, while our own ideas may be popular today, they may not be tomorrow."

Duka and Koski started their business in 2015. The women hold that while they are willing to sell to and assist gay customers, they would not be willing to produce artwork that contradicts their beliefs. The city of Phoenix, however, has an ordinance that would penalize each of them for up to $2,500 per day and six months of jail time if they violated the nondiscrimination law.

The city of Phoenix expanded the 1964 ordinance in 2013 to include sexual orientation and gender identity protections. 

In 2016, Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) filed a lawsuit against the city of Phoenix, representing Brush & Nib, and owners Joanna Duka and Breanna Koski.

Duka and Koski individually design, write, and customize invitations in their hand-lettering. The court found that there is a distinction between producing an identical product for everyone and the customized service Brush & Nib provides. 

"Ultimately, the City's analysis is based on the flawed assumption that Plaintiffs’ custom wedding invitations are fungible products, like a hamburger or a pair of shoes," the court said. "They are not. Plaintiffs do not sell "identical" invitations to anyone; every custom invitation is different and unique." 

David French, an attorney and the former director of ADF's Center for Academic Freedom, wrote in National Review that the ruling is one of many recent victories for religious freedom.

"Free speech and religious liberty are on a winning streak," French said.

"It's worth repeating time and time again that refusing to advance a particular message is not the same thing as the refusal to provide a service," he added.

Brianna Westbrook, vice-chair of the Arizona Democratic Party, tweeted that the court ruling could lead to other forms of discrimination towards LGBT people.

"This decision opens the door for other bigoted owners to outright discriminate against LGBTQ people for who we are and who we love," Westbrook tweeted.