Dec 20, 2018

Americans United for Separation of Church and State, joined by 17 religious freedom advocacy organizations, today urged the Arizona Supreme Court in the case Brush & Nib Studio v. City of Phoenix to affirm that a calligraphy business can’t misuse religious freedom to circumvent Phoenix’s antidiscrimination laws.

“In 2018 in America, a business owner should not be able to slam the door shut on someone who doesn’t live by the owner’s religious beliefs,” said Rachel Laser, president and CEO of Americans United. “Phoenix’s antidiscrimination laws and all civil rights laws in this country embody our shared values, and we can’t coexist if we use our individual religious beliefs to trump those values in a way that harms others. We will not move backward to the days when we had towns full of businesses that only served certain categories of people, forcing minorities to go door to door to find a shop owner who would serve them despite their religion, race or sexuality.”

Brush & Nib preemptively sued Phoenix seeking a religious exemption to the city’s antidiscrimination laws so that the calligraphy business can deny service to hypothetical same-sex couples in the future. In a friend-of-the-court brief filed today, AU and the allied organizations explained that if the court allows Brush & Nib to cite religious beliefs to turn away LGBTQ customers, businesses will have a license to discriminate against anyone who does not live according to their owners’ religious views.

“Antidiscrimination laws such as Phoenix’s … ensure that our nation’s vibrant diversity of faiths and beliefs does not divide and roil society,” the brief states. “They guarantee that a Muslim cannot be refused a meal by a Protestant restaurateur, a Sikh cannot be evicted by a Baptist landlord, and a Catholic cannot be fired by a Jewish supervisor for adhering to the ‘wrong’ faith.”

Joining AU in filing the brief are the National Council of Churches; Anti-Defamation League; Bend the Arc: A Jewish Partnership for Justice; Central Conference of American Rabbis; Disciples Center for Public Witness; Disciples Justice Action Network; Equal Partners in Faith; Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America Inc.; Hindu American Foundation; Interfaith Alliance Foundation; Men of Reform Judaism; Muslim Advocates; National Council of Jewish Women; Sikh Coalition; Southwest Conference of the United Church of Christ; Union for Reform Judaism; and Women of Reform Judaism.

“The Constitution promises us religious freedom. But it doesn’t give anyone a right to impose their beliefs on us at the expense of our rights and dignity,” said Alex J. Luchenitser, AU’s associate legal director and lead attorney on the brief. “Phoenix’s antidiscrimination laws protect both religious freedom and equal protection under law, vindicating fundamental American principles.”

The brief was drafted by Luchenitser, together with AU Legal Director Richard B. Katskee and AU Legal Fellow Claire L. Hillan.

Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.