The Arizona Supreme Court will review a case against a Phoenix ordinance that forces Christian artists to use their talents to promote homosexuality.
The ordinance also forbids public expression of the Christian beliefs that require celebrating only marriages between one man and one woman.
There were multiple requests for the court to act in the dispute, including one from state lawmakers who admitted they had no right to demand an opinion from the court.
But they said it would be helpful as they consider changes in state law to “foster freedom to the greatest extent for all Arizonans.”
The lawmakers noted the lower appeals court, which affirmed the Phoenix ordinance, apparently did not recognize the “competing speech rights of the petitioners.”
“The … decision assumed that equal access to public accommodations – an interest protected by Arizona statute – trumped the constitutional rights of free exercise and religious freedom as well as those of freedoms of speech and expression.”
A Phoenix art studio, Brush & Nib, which specializes in hand-painting, hand-lettering and calligraphy for weddings and other events, challenged the city ordinance that requires its Christian owners to provide the same promotion to same-sex weddings as they do for traditional weddings.
The owners, Joanna Duka and Breanna Koski, risk jail time and fines if they don’t provide the promotions demanded by the ordinance, even though those actions would violate their faith.
The Alliance Defending Freedom, which is representing Brush & Nib, said the state Court of Appeals allowed the city “to override” the art company’s decisions about “what messages to convey”
The ordinance, ADF contends, violates “fundamental principles of freedom of speech and religion.”
The Jewish Coalition for Religious Liberty also submitted a request for review, pointing out that when the U.S. Supreme Court created same-sex marriage, the ruling “promised that religious believers and organizations would remain secure in their constitutional right to believe, teach and live out their sincere religious convictions that marriage is between a man and a woman.”
“The promise was unmistakable and unambiguous,” the filing said.
That opinion admitted there are those who believe marriage “is by its nature a gender-differentiated union of man and woman.”
“This view long has been held – and continues to be held – in good faith by reasonable and sincere people. … Many who deem same-sex marriage to be wrong reach that conclusion based on decent and honorable religious or philosophical premises, and neither they nor their beliefs are disparaged here.”
They, the U.S. Supreme Court said, “may continue to advocate with utmost, sincere conviction that, by divine precepts, same-sex marriage should not be condoned. The First Amendment ensures that religious organizations and persons are given proper protection as they seek to teach the principles that are so fulfilling and so central to their lives and faiths.”
ADF Senior Counsel Jonathan Scruggs, who argued the case before the Arizona Court of Appeals, said no one “should be forced to create artwork contrary to their core convictions, and certainly not under threat of criminal fines and jail time.”
“That is what’s at stake in this case, and we hope that the Arizona Supreme Court’s decision will protect artistic and religious freedom for everyone,” he said. “The government must allow artists to make their own decisions about which messages they will promote. Joanna and Breanna are happy to design custom art for anyone; they simply object to being forced to pour their heart, soul, imagination, and talent into creating messages that violate their conscience.”
ADF said Phoenix “interprets its ordinance in a way that forces the two artists to use their artistic talents to celebrate and promote same-sex marriage in violation of their beliefs.”
“It also bans them from publicly communicating what custom artwork they can and cannot create consistent with their faith. The law threatens up to six months in jail, $2,500 in fines, and three years of probation for each day that there is a violation,” ADF said.
The case is a pre-enforcement challenge to the Phoenix code, and ADF lawyers argue it violates the Arizona Constitution and Arizona’s Free Exercise of Religion Act.
Tyndale House Publishers also sounded off on the fight, pointing out the state constitution says, “Every person may freely speak, write and publish on all subjects, being responsible for the abuse of that right.”
The National Center for Law and Policy warned the Phoenix ordinance causes concern “about the future of religious freedom throughout the United States, including the growing threat state anti-discrimination statutes pose to the constitutionally protected liberties of individuals, groups, and organizations.”
It was judges Lawrence Winthrop, Jennifer Campbell and Paul McMurdie on the Arizona Court of Appeals who affirmed the city’s restrictions on speech.
The lower court judges lashed out at the artists, charging that they “are not the first to attempt to use their religious beliefs to justify practices others consider overtly discriminatory.”
The judges rejected the argument that creating custom wedding invitations and artwork was “expressive conduct.”