Artist who defeated ordinance forcing her to serve gay weddings urges Christians ‘to take a stand’

Values Voter Summit
A panel at the annual Values Voters Summit in Washington, D.C., held at the Omni Shoreham Hotel on Friday, Oct. 11, 2019. From left to right: Family Research President Tony Perkins, retired Air Force Colonel Leland Bohannon, Brush & Nib co-owner Joanna Duka, West Michigan Beef Company owner Don Vander Boon, and Alliance Defending Freedom attorney Caleb Dalton. |

An Arizona artist who successfully sued the city of Phoenix over an ordinance that would have forced her company to provide services for same-sex weddings despite their religious objections has encouraged American Christians “to take a stand” for their beliefs.

The Arizona Supreme Court ruled last month in Brush & Nib v. City of Phoenix that Joanna Duka and Breanna Koski, owners of Brush & Nib Studio, cannot be compelled by a local antidiscrimination ordinance to provide their artistic services to same-sex weddings.

Duka was part of a panel at the Values Voters Summit on Friday comprised of people who were part of religious liberty litigation. When asked how she handled the pressure of the highly publicized lawsuit, Duka said her faith was a great help.

“Breanna and I put a lot of prayer into it. Is this something that God wants us to do? Are we on the right path? Because we wanted to do the right thing and we believed that God was leading us to do it,” explained Duka.

“There were definitely difficult moments. Litigation is a long and dragged out process … we were doing a lot of waiting and there are times when I wondered: Did I do the right thing? Is God still with me in this?”

Joanna Duka
Joanna Duka, co-owner of the Brush & Nib Studio of Phoenix, Arizona, giving remarks at the Values Voters Summit in Washington, D.C. as part of a panel on religious liberty on Friday, Oct. 11, 2019.

Duka said she and her business partner experienced spiritual growth during the litigation process, mainly because “we do believe that we were standing for what’s right and that God took care of the details.”

“Even if the outcome had not been what we wanted, we would still trust that, but obviously that’s the outcome that we were praying for and we’re grateful that we got that win,” she added.

Duka then implored those gathered “to be willing to take a stand” for their beliefs, adding, “when something is at your core, then that needs to be something that you are willing to put everything on the line for.”

“It is going to be difficult,” she acknowledged. “There were very difficult moments, but we have the great blessing of living in the United States of America and having a system … where we can contend for our rights.”   

Former Air Force Colonel Leland Bohannon, another member of the panel who in 2018 was exonerated after being punished for not signing a letter of support for a same-sex couple, also contrasted the American system with Christians experiencing persecution abroad.

“I think we can take some lessons from our brothers and sisters in China, we can probably take some lessons from our brothers and sisters in the Middle East who are suffering far greater than we can even imagine,” said Bohannon.

“Here, we live in a nation where things are succeeding. Perhaps the tide is turning in some ways. That may not always be the case. Will we continue with a spirit of generosity and outreach, or will we turn inward and become bitter because we didn’t get what we wanted?”

In addition to Duka and Bohannon, the other panelists were Don Vander Boon, owner of the West Michigan Beef Company who dealt with religious liberty litigation during the Obama administration, and Alliance Defending Freedom attorney Caleb Dalton.

Family Research Council President Tony Perkins moderated the panel, explaining at the beginning that he was not doing this as part of his role as chair of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom.

At one point, Perkins asked Dalton his opinion on Democratic presidential candidate Beto O'Rourke's support for stripping churches and other nonprofits of their tax-exempt status if they refuse to support same-sex marriage.

“To have a candidate for office express that message of animus toward people of faith is shocking,” responded Dalton.

“For a candidate to attack those who are out there loving their neighbor, but have a mere disagreement over an important issue like marriage … that’s not what America is about.”

Dalton added that he believes the U.S. is about people who “can disagree but get along” without having “the government come in and impose its viewpoint on individuals to compel them to violate their conscience.”

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