Christian artists cannot be forced to make gay wedding invitations, court rules

Breanna Koski and Joanna Duka(Photo: Facebook/Brush and Nib)

The Arizona Supreme Court has found in favour of two Christian artists who were facing jail time and fines for refusing to design custom wedding invitations for same-sex couples. 

The victory for Joanna Duka and Breanna Koski, the owners and artists of Brush & Nib Studio, marks the end of a lengthy legal battle to secure an exemption on religious grounds from a city of Phoenix ordinance banning discrimination "in places of public accommodation against any person because of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, marital status, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or disability". 

Violations of the ordinance carried a prison sentence of up to six months and a $2,500 fine for each day of non-compliance.

Although the ordinance made an exception for religious beliefs, this exemption did not extend to businesses. 

In May 2016, Duka and Koski filed a lawsuit against the city of Phoenix seeking an exemption to the ordinance because of their Christian beliefs but it was rejected by the Arizona Superior Court. 

Another court hearing in October 2017 reached the same verdict and in June 2018, the pair were again defeated by the Arizona Court of Appeals, which determined that they had "failed to prove that Section 18-4(B) substantially burdens their religious beliefs by requiring that they provide equal goods and services to same-sex couples."

In a last ditch attempt to with an exemption, the designers took their case to the Arizona Supreme Court. 

In a stunning turnaround, the court this week ruled in their favour, concluding that the city of Phoenix cannot force artists to express messages or celebrate events that violate their beliefs.

The Alliance Defending Freedom, which supported Duka and Koski in their legal challenge, called the verdict a "huge win" for religious freedom and freedom of speech.

"If the government can compel artists to speak messages and celebrate events against their faith, what's to say they won't seek to coerce the rest of us? A win for these creative professionals is a win for us all," it said.