Arizona’s highest court on Monday ruled that a Phoenix anti-discrimination ordinance violates a Christian business’s constitutional rights.
The Arizona Supreme Court ruled 4-3 in favor of the plaintiffs in Brush & Nib Studio v. City of Phoenix.
Brush & Nib Studio owners Joanna Duka and Breanna Koski challenged the city’s Human Relations Ordinance, which bans businesses from refusing services to same-sex couples. The studio, which specializes in custom painting and calligraphy used in wedding invitations, was represented by Scottsdale-based Alliance Defending Freedom, a non-profit legal group.
The ruling said that the city cannot require the studio “to create custom wedding invitations celebrating same-sex wedding ceremonies in violation of their sincerely held religious beliefs.”
The court said the plaintiffs have a right to refuse service, citing the Arizona Constitution and the state’s Free Exercise of Religion Act.
“To conclude, we hold that the Ordinance, as applied to Plaintiffs’ custom wedding invitations, and the creation of those invitations, unconstitutionally compels speech in violation of the Arizona Constitution’s free speech clause,” said the court’s opinion, written by Justice Andrew Gould.
The ruling only applies to the studio’s custom wedding invitations and not other wedding-related products it might offer.
Critics say the ruling will pave the way for further discrimination against same-sex couples.
“After so many have worked so hard to show that Arizona is a welcoming place for everyone, this decision will harm our economy by sending the unfortunate message that discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation is still acceptable by some state leaders,” said U.S. Rep. Greg Stanton, D-Arizona, who served as the city’s mayor when the ordinance passed in 2013.
ADF Senior Counsel Jonathan Scruggs, who argued the case in front of the court, said the ruling means the plaintiffs can conduct their business without fear of government overreach.
“We are pleased that the city can no longer enforce its ordinance in a manner that violates freedom of expression or the ability of Joanna and Breanna to live and work consistently with their faith,” Scruggs said. “Joanna and Breanna will now be able to create custom wedding invitations and to communicate about their beliefs without fear of government punishment, as any artist should be free to do.”