Government Threatens Artists With Jail Time Over Biblical Beliefs

The ordinance forces the studio's two female owners to use their artistic talents to promote same-sex ceremonies and also forbids the studio, Brush & Nib, and its proprietors from publicly expressing the Christian beliefs that prevent them from doing so and that require them to create art celebrating only marriages between one man and one woman.
The ordinance forces the studio's two female owners to use their artistic talents to promote same-sex ceremonies and also forbids the studio, Brush & Nib, and its proprietors from publicly expressing the Christian beliefs that prevent them from doing so and that require them to create art celebrating only marriages between one man and one woman. (Courtesy/ADF)

Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys filed an appeal Tuesday that asks an Arizona appeals court to temporarily stop Phoenix from applying an ordinance to an art studio specializing in hand-painting, hand-lettering and calligraphy for weddings and other events because the ordinance conflicts with free speech. The ordinance forces the studio's two female owners to use their artistic talents to promote same-sex ceremonies and also forbids the studio, Brush & Nib, and its proprietors from publicly expressing the Christian beliefs that prevent them from doing so and that require them to create art celebrating only marriages between one man and one woman.

The appeal comes after a trial court judge declined to issue an order that would prevent the city from enforcing the ordinance against the studio or its owners while their lawsuit moves forward in court.

"Artists shouldn't be threatened with jail time just because they don't hold the same views the government does," said ADF Legal Counsel Jonathan Scruggs. "We are asking the appeals court to reverse the trial court and suspend this ordinance while our case goes forward because the city must allow artists the freedom to make personal decisions about what art they will and will not create. In addition, the ordinance's further requirement that artists stay quiet about their views is clearly unjust and unlawful."

At the trial court, ADF attorneys argued that the ordinance runs afoul of Arizona's Free Speech Clause and Free Exercise of Religion Act. Specifically, the suit, Brush & Nib Studio v. City of Phoenix, challenges Phoenix City Code Section 18.4(B), a non-discrimination ordinance which the city has construed to force artists like the owners of Brush & Nib to create objectionable art, even though they decide what art to create based on the art's message, not the requester's personal characteristics.

The Phoenix ordinance also prohibits businesses, including artists, from publicly communicating any message that "implies" someone would be "unwelcome" based upon the person's sexual orientation, gender identity, or any one of a number of other characteristics, thus preventing many artists from explaining their position on marriage publicly without risking up to $2,500 fines and six months in jail for each day the artist violates the ordinance.

"We are asking the appeals court to ensure that Phoenix officials will have to respect our clients' freedom of speech for the duration of this lawsuit," said ADF Senior Counsel Jeremy Tedesco. "It's our hope that the city will respect it permanently for these artists and any artists, regardless of the political or religious views that the artists hold."

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