The Brush & Nib Studio’s owners have won a major LGBTQ discrimination case despite never being accused of discriminating against anyone. Instead, the business preemptively sued for the right to refuse to print wedding invitations for gay and lesbian couples in an attempt to nullify the city of Phoenix’s nondiscrimination law.
The company was represented by the anti-LGBT hate group, Alliance Defending Freedom. The devious group serves as the legal arm of the religious right activist movement and, conveniently enough, they wrote the company’s operating agreement shortly before filing the lawsuit on their behalf.
In 2016, Brush & Nib sued Phoenix, arguing that the city’s ban on discrimination violated the company’s freedom of speech. Among other services, the newly-formed store wanted to print wedding invitations, but only for straight couples.
Co-owners Joanna Duka and Breanna Koski said that they were “devout Christians” who wanted to overturn the civil rights law before any complaints could be filed against them. The owners also wanted to post a sign saying that they refuse to serve same-sex couples.
Last year, a state court of appeals ruled that Phoenix’s anti-discrimination ordinance does not violate anyone’s free speech, since it advances a legitimate government interest by prohibiting conduct, not speech. The court also rejected the store’s religious freedom argument.
“What appellants cannot do is use their religion as a shield to discriminate against potential customers,” justice Winthrop wrote at the time.
The state Supreme Court, dominated by social conservatives appointed by a far-right Republican governor, disagreed in today’s ruling. The court rejected that logic, ruling that the owner’s beliefs entitle them to an exemption from civil rights law.
“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,” the ruling says. “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.”
“The City of Phoenix cannot apply its Human Relations Ordinance to force Joanna Duka and Breanna Koski, owners of Brush & Nib Studios, to create custom wedding invitations celebrating same-sex wedding ceremonies in violation of their sincerely held religious beliefs.”
The court cautions that their ruling does not extend beyond wedding invitations and not “all of Plaintiff’s business operations.”
The company’s operating principles drawn up by the religious right legal group, says it “is owned solely by Christian artists who operate this entity as an extension of and in accordance with their artistic and religious beliefs.” It does not specify what their beliefs are.