Court: Christian artists can refuse to make invites for same-sex wedding

Baker Jack Phillips decorates a cake in his Masterpiece Cakeshop in Lakewood, Colo., Dec. 1, 2017. Phillips is a Christian cake baker whose religious refusal to craft a same-sex wedding cake led to his case being heard at the Supreme Court in 2018. (CNS photo/Rick Wilking, Reuters)

PHOENIX (CNS) -- Arizona's Catholic bishops praised the state Supreme Court's Sept. 16 decision upholding the refusal by two Christian artists to create custom wedding invitations for same-sex couples based on their religious belief in marriage as being between one man and one woman.

"We are grateful that the importance of religious liberty was recognized today by the Arizona Supreme Court in the case of Brush & Nib Studio v. City of Phoenix," the bishops said in a statement.

Joanna Duka and Breanna Koski, who started their studio in 2015, "only want to create art that is consistent with their artistic and religious beliefs," the bishops said.

"Today's ruling striking down a Phoenix law that had threatened their ability to do so by potential government coercion is, therefore, a positive development for religious liberty," they said. "After all, the freedom to practice one's religion is fundamental to our way of living and should never be reduced to a 'freedom of worship' that limits these rights to the confines of church property."

The statement, released in Phoenix by the Arizona Catholic Conference, was signed by Bishop Edward J. Weisenburger of Tucson, Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted and Auxiliary Bishop Eduardo A. Nevares of Phoenix and Bishop James S. Wall of Gallup, New Mexico, whose diocese includes a portion of Arizona.

In May 2016, Alliance Defending Freedom filed a lawsuit against the city of Phoenix on behalf of Duka, Koski and Brush & Nib saying a city ordinance aimed at protecting the LGBTQ community from discrimination violated the artists' right to free speech and religious freedom as protected by the First Amendment and the Arizona Constitution.

They argued the ordinance forced them to create art they object to and stopped them from discussing their artistic and religious beliefs with others.

The artists lost their case in front of a trial judge and the state Court of Appeals, so the Supreme Court heard their case and they won in a 4-3 ruling.

"The rights of free speech and free exercise (of religion), 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," Justice Andrew Gould wrote for the majority.

He added, "These guarantees protect the right of every American to express their beliefs in public."

Supporters of the decision said it was narrowly written, but its opponents claimed it "opens the door for other bigoted owners to outright discriminate against LGBTQ people."

In their statement, the bishops said: "As we have stated previously, the Catholic Church supports the human dignity of people of all faiths, and even those of no faith, while firmly opposing any forms of unjust discrimination. We consider ourselves blessed to live in a county that values such freedoms and respect for all people."

"Thankfully," they added, "the reality still remains that Arizona has the ability to serve every person while making room for valid conscientious objection for the purposes of religious freedom."