“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. 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 a person’s sincere religious beliefs.”
That opinion, issued in fall 2019 by the Arizona State Supreme Court, assumed an art form all its own – it was music in the ears of the plaintiffs in the case, calligrapher Joanna Duka and artist Breanna Koski.
It’s safe to assume that Joanna and Breanna, the founders of Brush & Nib Studio in Phoenix, never planned to wade into the tempestuous waters that so many other artists are being forced to navigate while pursuing artistic dreams. Their case arose from challenging a law that would have forced them – against their sincerely held religious beliefs – to create customized and elaborate wedding invitations with words and paintings celebrating same-sex wedding ceremonies. It would even have prevented them from explaining why they could only create art consistent with their views on marriage.
Similar legal conflicts have arisen throughout the country, as many state and local laws take aim at artists who want to use their gifts to honor their deeply held values and beliefs.
Some, like Joanna and Breanna, have seen justice from the courts and their freedom affirmed, while others, like Lorie Smith, in Colorado, can still only hope.
Lorie owns and operates 303 Creative, through which she creates custom websites and graphics for her clients. But if Lorie creates websites celebrating weddings, a Colorado law would force her to design custom websites and graphics promoting messages that violate her religious beliefs on marriage.
With the help of Alliance Defending Freedom, Lorie is challenging the law, but so far, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit has said that Colorado can continue to tell Lori what she can and can’t create and what she can and can’t say. The Tenth Circuit did so even though it admitted that Lorie’s websites were protected speech under the First Amendment and that Colorado’s law required her to speak messages she disagreed with.
All that was justified, said the court, because Lorie created unique artwork. Not good news for artists – no matter what their viewpoints or mediums.
So, Lori is now petitioning the U.S. Supreme Court to take her case.
If some of this is starting to sound familiar, it’s because Colorado cake artist Jack Phillips has already been down this road, declining to create custom cakes celebrating views of marriage and gender that contradict his deeply held religious beliefs. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 7-2 in his favor—condemning the state for its “clear and impermissible hostility” toward Jack’s beliefs.
That’s good news for Lorie, but as we’ve seen too many times before, challenges continue to be raised against artists’ freedom of speech and religion. Jack is now in the middle of his third legal action—still being harassed by an activist attorney.
French painter Henri Matisse once famously mused, “creativity takes courage.”On International Artist Day, October 25, Americans should celebrate the courage on display from Joanna, Breanna, Lorie, and Jack.
With their very livelihoods on the line, they have chosen to stand—not just for the creative work that they do, but for the freedom of all artists to create and speak, free from government punishment.