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Supreme Court of the United States

Explaining the Brush & Nib Studio Case

April 27, 2022

Joanna Duka and Breanna Koski are two of the most passionate, loving, and faithful people you will ever meet.

The two young women co-own Brush & Nib Studio, an upscale hand-painting, hand-lettering, and calligraphy company. They create and sell custom artwork—paintings, prints, business logos, wedding invitations, and more—for clients and their special events.

For several years, they endured unbelievable hate and vitriol with a quiet strength and grace.

Why? Because they took a stand for their right to live according to their religious beliefs—beliefs that some governments have labeled unpopular and unwelcome.

Let’s take a look at these inspiring Christian women and the facts of their case.

 

Joanna Duka and Breanna Koski create custom-designed artwork through their business, Brush & Nib Studio.
Joanna Duka and Breanna Koski create custom-designed artwork through their business, Brush & Nib Studio.

 

Who are Joanna Duka and Breanna Koski of Brush & Nib Studio?

In 2014, Joanna was laying the groundwork to open her own calligraphy business. But she felt a piece was missing. She knew she wanted to incorporate painting, but her own experiments with the medium left her frustrated.

Then she met Breanna, who just happened to be a painter, at a church bible study, and the two quickly became friends. Over coffee in early 2015, they decided to work together to create and sell their art. Brush & Nib Studio was born.

Now they work as a team. Joanna, a calligrapher, uses a nib to write in delicate and decorative fonts. And Breanna, a painter, uses a brush to paint beautiful, unique illustrations. “We bounce ideas off of each other,” says Joanna. “Sometimes one of us will start with a concept and the other will kind of build on it or vice versa. We may start with a lettering style, or start with an artistic idea, or a little drawing or sketch, or maybe the color will inspire it.”

Joanna and Breanna are Christians, and their faith is at the core of who they are and everything they do. They see their art as a way to reflect God’s beauty, and they pour their hearts into their custom creations. “Creating beautiful things is what I like to do,” says Breanna. “It’s a part of who I am. In every way we want to put as much of ourselves into our art as possible.”

 

Brush & Nib Studio v. City of Phoenix

Soon after they launched Brush & Nib, Joanna and Breanna learned about Phoenix City Code Section 18.4(B).

According to city officials, this law required them to create artwork promoting events and messages that go against their faith, including same-sex marriages. But it doesn’t stop there. The law even prohibited them from explaining that they can only create artwork consistent with their artistic and religious beliefs.

Joanna and Breanna faced up to six months in jail, $2,500 in fines, and three years of probation for each day that they violated this law.

Brush & Nib gladly serves everyone, regardless of their sexual orientation, and they create art for many different occasions. But Joanna & Breanna cannot in good conscience promote an event that violates their beliefs.

And they shouldn’t have to. The First Amendment protects everyone’s right to freely to live out their beliefs without government hostility or punishment. There are countless people of goodwill, from faith traditions as diverse as Islam and Christianity, who share Joanna and Breanna’s beliefs about marriage—that it is the union of a man and a woman. No one should be bullied or banished from the marketplace for peacefully living out that belief.

Thankfully, we as Americans don’t have to wait for an unjust and unconstitutional law to be used against us in order to seek relief. Alliance Defending Freedom filed a “pre-enforcement challenge” (a challenge to a law before it is enforced) on Brush & Nib’s behalf, asking the courts to invalidate this unconstitutional application of Phoenix’s law.

Brush & Nib Studio is located in Phoenix, and it challenged Phoenix’s attempt to use its ordinance to compel Joanna and Breanna to create art expressing messages that violate their religious beliefs. But this is not the only law of its kind. ADF has defended creative professionals against similar laws in Colorado, Kentucky, Minnesota, and Washington.

 

Case timeline

  • May 2016: ADF filed a lawsuit against the City of Phoenix.
  • June 2018: The Arizona Court of Appeals issued a decision allowing the enforcement of the Phoenix law, which violated Joanna and Breanna’s constitutional rights, to stand.
  • July 2019: Joanna and Breanna asked the Arizona Supreme Court to uphold their rights to free speech.
  • September 2019: The Arizona Supreme Court ruled in favor of Joanna and Breanna, recognizing that Phoenix cannot force artists to express messages that violate their religious beliefs.

 

Outcome

Under the First Amendment, every American has the right to speak accordingly to their beliefs, regardless of what those beliefs are. Because of this, the government cannot compel citizens to speak messages against those beliefs, like Phoenix attempted to do in its enforcement of the law at issue in this case.

Brush & Nib Studio v. City of Phoenix was a landmark win for the freedom of speech and has since been cited in judicial opinions across the country, including at the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Arizona Supreme Court ruled that Joanna and Breanna have a right to run their business in accordance with their beliefs and cannot be compelled by the government to speak messages or celebrate events that go against their faith. The first words of the decision read:

The rights of free speech and free exercise, so precious to this nation since its founding, are not limited to soft murmurings behind the doors of a persons’ home or church, or private conversations with like-minded friends and family. These guarantees protect the right of every American to express their beliefs in public. This includes the right to create and sell words, and art that express a person’s sincere religious beliefs.

After all, if the government can compel artists to speak against their faith, what’s to say it won’t seek to coerce the rest of us? A win for these creative professionals is a win for us all.

 

The bottom line

The government shouldn’t threaten artists with fines and jail time to force them to create artwork expressing messages that violate their beliefs. Thankfully, the Arizona Supreme Court agrees, and freedom is more secure today because of Joanna and Breanna’s brave stand.

 

Learn more about Brush & Nib Studio's case:

 

Watch:


Alliance Defending Freedom

Alliance Defending Freedom

Non-profit organization

Alliance Defending Freedom advocates for your right to freely live out your faith


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