Muting Speech. Deafening Silence?

Six months in jail + $2,500 in fines + three years of probation… for each day there is a violation. What would you do, if faced with this threat?

Joanna Duka and Breanna Koski — owners of Brush & Nib Studio in Phoenix, Arizona — face these threats. Because their upscale hand-painting, hand-lettering, calligraphy company creates and sells customized art. Including for weddings.

But not all weddings.

Consistent with their Christian beliefs, they create art for everyone…. but not for every message. Like messages demeaning others or promoting racism or objectifying the female body.

Or violating their Christian beliefs about marriage.

The Phoenix City Code bans discrimination in places of public accommodation. Phoenix claims if Joanna and Breanna provide services for opposite-sex weddings, they must do the same for same-sex weddings.

Something completely at odds with their religious beliefs.

Rather than violate the law, Joanna and Breanna went to court with a “pre-enforcement challenge.” Challenging the law’s legitimacy, contending it shouldn’t be enforced.

So far, they are losing. Most recently, at the Arizona Court of Appeals. They’re appealing to the Arizona Supreme Court.

This case is one of many impacting creative professionals serving the wedding industry. But other recent U.S. Supreme Court cases also address threats to the same fundamental freedom…

Freedom of Speech.

Is there a sea change in our society, with far-reaching implications for all Americans? Two attorneys with the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) speak to this question.

Senior Counsel Jonathan Scruggs, director of ADF’s Center for Conscience Initiatives, writes:

“In late June, the U.S. Supreme Court issued two landmark rulings. One said California cannot compel pro-life pregnancy care centers to advertise for abortions; the other said Illinois cannot compel government employees to pay for union advocacy with which the employees disagree…

… no one wins when the government can compel you to speak or pay private parties to promote ideas that violate your core convictions… Justice Anthony Kennedy [said] ‘better to begin by reading the First Amendment as ratified in 1791; to understand the history of authoritarian government as the Founders then knew it; to confirm that history since then shows how relentless authoritarian regimes are in their attempts to stifle free speech; and to carry these lessons onward as we seek to preserve and teach the necessity of freedom of speech for the generations to come…. ”

James Gottry, ADF attorney, adds:

“Our First Amendment freedom is… meaningless when… reduced to the ‘right’ to express government-approved views… As the Supreme Court has held, ‘First Amendment freedoms are most in danger when the government seeks to control thought… The right to think is the beginning of freedom…”  AND

“To forbid people from articulating beliefs and peacefully acting consistently with those beliefs is, at its core, an attempt to forbid the beliefs themselves… As the Supreme Court [also] notes…  ‘a bedrock principle underlying the First Amendment… is that the government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable.”

Compelling issues… Amen? What say you?

Please post your comments below.

Diana Furr, a.k.a. Abba’s Girl

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