News and Commentary

Two Christian Calligraphers Face Jail Time For Not Promoting Same-Sex Weddings

The ruling of the Supreme Court over the Masterpiece Cakeshop has not deterred the state of Arizona from blatantly violating the religious beliefs of two Christian calligraphy artists for refusing to service same-sex weddings.

In 2016, when debates over religious freedom following the Obergefell ruling were a major concern, Joanna Duka and Breanna Koski, two openly-Christian women and owners of Brush & Nib Studio, filed suit against the city of Phoenix claiming its anti-discrimination ordinance would violate their religious beliefs when it comes to servicing same-sex weddings, such as invitations or save-the-date announcements. Unlike the Masterpiece Cakeshop, the women were not sued by a homosexual couple, but had been enlisted by same-sex couples on various occasions to service their weddings. In fear of reprisal, the women sued Phoenix, saying their ordinance forces them to use their creative talents in service of something they find morally objectionable.

Last October, Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Karen Mullins ruled the Phoenix ordinance did not violate the artists’ religious beliefs and they could be compelled by the government to service the weddings. Oddly, Judge Mullins acknowledged that the artists undoubtedly engage in a form of speech, but still ruled against them since they did not engage in “expressive speech.” In other words, the government was defining the types of speech that could be compelled and what could not.

This past June, the Arizona Court of Appeals upheld the Mullins ruling, saying that the artists wish to engage in a “blanket refusal of service to the LGBTQ community,” even though Duka and Koski were happy to service homosexual couples so long as it did not involve participation in an event they found morally objectionable.

According to LifeSiteNews, the 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).” The Phoenix law also states that the two women could be prosecuted if they publish a statement on their site “explaining that their religious convictions prohibit them” from servicing a same-sex wedding.

Headed by the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), the same organization that defended Masterpiece Cakeshop, the two women will now be appealing their case to the Arizona Supreme Court, which may well end up in the U.S. Supreme Court should it uphold the ruling. This means that the new court headed by Justice Roberts and possible newcomer Brett Kavanaugh will need to make a broader ruling to prevent further cases such as this.

Though the court ultimately ruled in Masterpiece Cakeshop’s favor, the decision did not say that baker Jack Phillips had a First Amendment right to deny same-sex weddings, only that Colorado Civil Rights Commission showed clear hostility toward his beliefs. The narrow ruling left room for lower courts to compel artistic speech. In fact, the Arizona Court of Appeals cited the SCOTUS ruling as a reason to compel the calligraphy artists to service same-sex weddings by saying they have been “anything other than neutral toward and respectful of their sincerely-expressed religious beliefs.”

If the Supreme Court does not issue a clear and emphatic ruling that states cannot compel artists to service events they find morally objectionable, then these lawsuits will continue at a rapid pace.

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