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Brush & Nib Studios, LC v. City of Phoenix - 448 P.3d 890


The compelled speech doctrine is grounded on the principle that freedom of speech includes both the right to speak freely and the right to refrain from speaking at all. One who chooses to speak may also decide what not to say. The First Amendment guarantee of free speech necessarily includes the freedom of deciding both what to say and what not to say.


Joanna Duka and Breanna Koski were owners of Brush & Nib Studios, LC (Brush & Nib), an art studio specializing in creating custom artwork for weddings, events, special occasions, home décor, and businesses. All the custom invitations feature Duka and Koski’s hand-drawn images and paintings, custom lettering and calligraphy, as well as their original artwork. Duka and Koski were Christians, and thus, they sought to operate Brush & Nib consistent with their religious beliefs. As a tenet of their faith, Duka and Koski did not believe that two people of the same sex can be married; thus, they believed that creating a custom wedding invitation that conveyed a message celebrating same-sex marriage, for any customer regardless of sexual orientation, violated their sincerely-held religious convictions. In 2013, The City of Phoenix issued a Human Relations Ordinance prohibiting public accommodations from discriminating against persons based in their status and sexual orientation. Duka and Koski subsequently filed an action to enjoin the City from enforcing the Ordinance, arguing that the same violated their right to free speech article 2, section 6 of the Arizona Constitution, and their rights under Arizona's Free Exercise of Religion Act (FERA), Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 41-1493.01. The trial court ruled that the Ordinance did not violate Plaintiff’s rights to free speech or free exercise of religion under the FERA.


Could the City of Phoenix impose its Human Relations Ordinance to force Duka and Koski to create custom wedding invitations celebrating same-sex wedding ceremonies in violation of their sincerely held religious beliefs?




The Supreme Court of Arizona held that under Ariz. Const. art. 2, § 6, the City of Phoenix could not apply its Human Relations Ordinance to force an art studio's owners, in violation of their sincerely held religious beliefs, to create custom wedding invitations for same-sex wedding ceremonies. Free Speech principles did not protect all of the business’s activities or products simply because the business operated as an "art studio,” but the custom wedding invitations (each containing hand-drawn words, images, and calligraphy, and original artwork), and the process of creating them, were protected as pure speech. According to the Court, for purposes of Arizona's Free Exercise of Religion Act (FERA), Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 41-1493.01, the ordinance unmistakably coerced the studio owners to abandon their religious belief because it imposed severe civil and criminal sanctions.

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