Surge Summary: An Arizona Supreme Court decision upholds the religious liberty rights of a pair of Christian business owners – but the complete results remain somewhat mixed for lovers of First Amendment freedoms.
It continues: the see-sawing decisions supporting the original meaning of America’s Constitution vs. those that undercut what the text actually intended. Seems like weekly there is a decision from American courts of some kind which uphold our founding intentions; or one that erodes them.
Out of Arizona, we find a sample of the former:
Two Arizona calligraphers at the heart of yet another religious liberty battle won a major victory Monday with the Arizona Supreme Court’s ruling that business owners have the right to choose not to provide certain products to same-sex “weddings.”
Joanna Duka and Breanna Koski own Brush & Nib Studio, a small business founded on Christian values. They say they serve any customer regardless of sexuality but draw the line at being forced to produce custom messages endorsing events that violate their beliefs. [Calvin Freiburger/LifeSiteNews]
The business proprietors have been battling the city of Phoenix since 2016 over another one of those LGBT “anti-discrimination” ordinances we’re all getting accustomed to. Duka and Koski argue these statutes violate their freedom of speech and religion – which, of course, they do — because it threatens them with fines and prison time for refusing to create invitations to same-sex “weddings.”
In a 4-3 ruling on Monday, the state’s highest court came down on their side. They decided the ordinance “runs afoul of the First Amendment, which ‘necessarily implies’ a violation of Plaintiffs’ broader free speech right under article 2, section 6 of the Arizona Constitution.”
“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 person’s home or church, or private conversations with like-minded friends and family,” Justice Andrew Gould wrote for the majority. “These guarantees protect the right of every American to express their beliefs in public. This includes the right to create and sell words, paintings and art that express as person’s sincere religious beliefs.”
The Court was acknowledging a subtle but crucial distinction: the difference between “freedom of worship” (i.e., liberty of private belief) and the “freedom of religion” (liberty to openly live according to one spiritual convictions) propounded in the Bill of Rights.
“Breanna and I create beautiful, hand-made artwork to celebrate weddings and other events,” Duka said at a press conference after the ruling. “We can spend hours, days imagining, creating, designing these custom artistic pieces. This process is very personal for us. We pour our hearts and our souls into our custom artwork, and we care deeply about the messages that artwork expresses.”
“Breanna and I will gladly serve everyone,” she continued. “But we cannot create custom artwork celebrating certain events, and the government should not control those expressive decisions.”
On a less heartening note, Tucson.com noted the ruling was not as comprehensive as many would have preferred: it affirms the right to refuse to create items which bear messages endorsing specific ceremonies — wedding invitations, in this case — but leaves the door open for a Christian business’s being forced to provide more “neutral” items; place cards to same-sex couples, for example.
“We do not recognize a blanket exemption from the ordinance for all of the plaintiffs’ business operations,” Gould also wrote, somewhat ominously.
More sobering details for those who endorse actual, full-bodied religious liberty:
City spokeswoman Julie Waters told Courthouse News that due to the narrow nature of the ruling, Phoenix will continue to enforce the ordinance against local businesses other than Brush & Nib Studio. “The city of Phoenix’s anti-discrimination ordinance is still a legal, valid law and remains in effect,” she declared.
Stubborn bunch, these anti-God – anti-Christian – crusaders, aren’t they.
Still, that didn’t satisfy everyone on the opposite side of the majority finding. Justice Scott Bales’ dissent called the majority opinion “deeply troubling” in his dissent. Meanwhile, the conservative Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), which represented Duka and Koski, celebrated the outcome as a
“HUGE win for religious freedom and freedom of speech … Now, Joanna and Breanna can continue to live and work consistently with their beliefs without fear of government punishment.”
ADF’s Jonathan Scruggs did admit to Tucson.com the ruling’s limits did temper the group’s enthusiasm for it. It was hoping for a broader protection but is still thrilled with this week’s outcome.
“The court rejected that argument and ruled in favor of freedom of speech and freedom of religion,” Scruggs said. “And that, like I said, is a great win.”
The government’s too-frequent requirements that individuals and businesses have to come bowing and scraping before it in order to exercise basic, First Amendment guarantees remains galling and packs menacing potential for future judicial mischief. That said, there’s no doubt this update represents a step forward for the cause of constitutionally affirmed liberty.
H/T: Calvin Freiburger/LifeSiteNews
Image: Creative Commons; CC by-SA 2.0;https://www.flickr.com/photos/ lindseywb/3675778199/