Jewish Group Backs Christian Artists in Their Religious Freedom Case Against Phoenix

By Nancy Flory Published on October 15, 2018

Two Christian artists in Phoenix are looking at up to 6 months in jail, $2,500 in fines and three years of probation for each day they refuse to create and make wedding invitations for same-sex nuptials. Hoping to avoid choosing between violating their beliefs and closing their shop the pair sued the city in 2016. The suit is still pending, and now a local Jewish group has joined their fight.

Joanna Duka and Breanna Koski of Brush & Nib Studio sued over the city’s ordinance §18.4(B). The ordinance requires them to use their talents and artistic skills to create art for all weddings, including same-sex weddings. While they haven’t had to refuse service to gay couples yet, they will if asked.

‘Seeking Vindication of Their Rights’

Their attorney, Samuel Greene of Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), spoke with The Stream. According to Greene, the women filed a suit proactively against Phoenix to avoid violating the law. Greene explained: 

If they [are] consistent with their religious beliefs and decline to create custom artwork celebrating a same-sex wedding, then Phoenix could use this criminal law to punish them and possibly put them in jail. So, understandably, they did not want to risk those penalties so they went to the court and said, ‘Here’s Phoenix’s position that’s threatening our artistic freedom and our religious freedom,’ and asked the court to please declare that Phoenix cannot use the law in that way. That way, they are not violating the law and risking the criminal penalties but are instead going to the court and seeking vindication of their rights.

A Petition for Review

The Arizona Superior Court and Court of Appeals have thus far sided with Phoenix. In July, Duka and Koski filed a petition for review with the Arizona Supreme Court. They’re waiting to hear if the court will review their case. Greene said they are asking the court to “issue a ruling that would ensure that [they] and every American can live and work consistent with their faith without fear of unjust punishment by the government.”

A Different Perspective

In the meantime, a Jewish group has filed a brief in support of the women. Late last month, the Jewish Coalition for Religious Liberty (JCRL) filed the amicus brief, meaning “friend of the court.” The brief states, in part, that “one of the most fundamental ways to exercise religion is to live out one’s faith in the public square, including at work and while running a business.”

For General Counsel Howard Slugh, the Phoenix law terrified him. “It was a nonstarter for us,” he told The Stream. Jewish people, who have food and clothing restrictions, are “more likely” to be affected by the Phoenix law. He had to get involved. The brief supports the women’s case in that it offers the court additional “perspective,” and a “full picture” of how it affects the Jewish and other minority religion communities.

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Greene agrees. “Not only does that provide the court with a different perspective on the case, that the parties themselves may not have presented in the briefing, but it also indicates to the court that this is an issue of great public importance and consequence that’s deserving of the court’s attention.”

The deadline for other groups like JCRL to file briefs, but ones who support the City of Phoenix, is the end of this month. 

Standing Together

Greene believes that Christians and other people of faith must stand together in order to protect religious freedom. “What this case really comes down to is the right of everyone to live and work according to their faith without fear of unjust punishment by the government. The government cannot force its citizens to surrender their free speech rights and their religious freedom to run a business and create expression.”

Greene warns that everyone should get behind Duka and Koski, because the right of freedom of speech and freedom of religion applies to everyone else, too. “If the government can punish Joanna and Breanna because it finds their views distasteful, then it can punish someone else when they are out of the mainstream.”

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