Liberties Reporting on First Amendment freedoms

Christian artists get another day in court

Religious Liberty | Arizona Supreme Court takes religious liberty case
by Lynde Langdon
Posted 11/27/18, 04:40 pm

The Arizona Supreme Court announced last week it will hear the case of two Christian artists who fear for their livelihoods under a Phoenix law that could require them to violate their religious beliefs. The lawsuit is one in a wave of pre-emptive moves to protect religious liberty across the country.

Breanna Koski and Joanna Duka of the Brush & Nib stationery studio filed suit in 2016 in response to a 2013 Phoenix ordinance that made it unlawful for businesses to publicize any statement that could imply they might refuse service to someone based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

Koski and Duka worried that references to God and faith on their website could be construed as violating the ordinance, which carries potentially crippling penalties such as jail time and fines of up to $2,500 a day. The law bans them from publicly communicating their faith to their customers, for instance, by posting a sign that explains their beliefs about marriage, something pertinent to the numerous orders they receive for custom wedding invitations.

“No one should be forced to create artwork contrary to their core convictions, and certainly not under threat of criminal fines and jail time,” said Jonathan Scruggs, senior counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom, which is providing legal representation for Koski and Duka. “That is what’s at stake in this case.”

A lower court ruled against the two, and an Arizona appeals court agreed. The appellate court rejected the artists’ argument that declining to produce an item of custom art, such as a hand-lettered invitation, for a same-sex wedding is different than refusing to serve someone because of their sexual orientation.

“Joanna and Breanna are happy to design custom art for anyone; they simply object to being forced to pour their heart, soul, imagination, and talent into creating messages that violate their conscience,” Scruggs said.

At the time they filed their appeal, the artists had not received a request for services for a same-sex wedding. They did get such a request after the appeal was filed, the court stated, but the judges said it was likely in retaliation for the lawsuit, and the artists did not respond.

The appellate court suggested that the women post a disclaimer in their store stating that “the act of selling their goods and services to same-sex couples does not constitute an endorsement of their customers’ exercise of their constitutional right to marry or any other activities.” That idea ignores concerns about moral complicity, a principle “common to many faiths,” as the Jewish Coalition for Religious Liberty noted in an amicus brief in the case. The brief cited a ruling by Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch, then an appellate judge, in the Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores case that protected privately held corporations from providing contraceptives and abortifacients to employees in violation of the business owners’ religious beliefs.

“All of us must answer for ourselves whether and to what degree we are willing to be involved in the wrongdoing of others,” Gorsuch wrote. “For some, religion provides an essential source of guidance both about what constitutes wrongful conduct and the degree to which those who assist others in committing wrongful conduct themselves bear moral culpability.”

ADF has filed other pre-enforcement challenges in recent years to laws that restrict religious liberty. In 2016, the legal group won a victory on behalf of an Iowa church when a federal judge ruled that the Iowa Civil Rights Commission could not censor the speech of churches. ADF also filed a pre-emptive suit in Colorado for a graphic designer challenging a nondiscrimination law that restricts free speech and freedom of religion, and that case is pending.

Associated Press/Photo by Susan Walsh Associated Press/Photo by Susan Walsh Ilhan Omar at the Capitol on Nov. 14

Democrats challenge headwear ban in Congress

One of the first Muslim women in Congress has co-authored a proposal to clarify a 181-year-old rule to allow lawmakers to wear religious headwear in the House chamber.

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi of California, incoming House Rules Committee Chairman Jim McGovern, D-Mass., and newly elected Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., proposed the rule as part of a draft package the Democrats will pursue once they gain control of the lower chamber in January.

The current House rules, implemented in 1837, state that “every member shall remain uncovered during the sessions of the House.” Omar and incoming Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., will be the first two Muslim women in Congress. “No one puts a scarf on my head but me,” Omar tweeted. “It’s my choice—one protected by the First Amendment.”

Other proposals in the Democratic package include plans to create a diversity office and to “ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity” among others. —Onize Ohikere

Facebook/Riverside Regional Jail Authority Facebook/Riverside Regional Jail Authority Inmates at Riverside Regional Jail in North Prince George, Va.

Muslim group sues jail over Bible program

A Muslim legal group filed a federal lawsuit last Wednesday against a Virginia jail for allowing “segregated living quarters” for Christian inmates.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations said the Riverside Regional Jail in North Prince George, Va., designated a housing pod for Christian prisoners only, which inmates nicknamed the “God Pod.” The lawsuit says jail officials discriminated against Muslim inmates by not providing them with an opportunity to participate in Islamic programs, not catering to their dietary needs during the month of Ramadan by providing them with food before morning prayers, and excluding them from the housing unit.

The jail’s website says it provides pastoral services, Bible studies, and religious group activities to inmates. Bible studies are taught by Good News Jail & Prison Ministry chaplains and are open to any faith group. The lawsuit argues the jail is violating the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution by promoting one religion over others and asks that the jail dismantle the pod. —Harvest Prude

Lynde Langdon

Lynde is a WORLD Digital’s managing editor and reports on popular and fine arts. She lives in Wichita, Kan., with her husband and two daughters. Follow Lynde on Twitter @lmlangdon.

Read more from this writer