by Jared Besse • 6 min read
Religious liberty and free speech are on a winning streak. Thanks to an ongoing string of key legal achievements, you and I—along with millions of people of faith—now have the greatest hope for the future of America’s first freedom.
From the historic U.S. Supreme Court decision for the Bladensburg Peace Cross, to the record-pace confirmations of strong constitutionalist judges to our judiciary, to several precedent-setting victories in federal courts, religious liberty is being transformed unlike anything we’ve seen in the last half century. We’re witnessing and living through one of the most exciting times in our country’s history, evident in the recurrent and multiple First Amendment victories that are taking place from coast to coast.
Let’s take a moment to discuss two recent victories that will impact the constitutional rights of students and independent, faith-based business owners.
Last month, a federal court ruled in favor of a student in Green Bay, Wisconsin and affirmed her right to distribute religious-themed Valentine’s Day cards at a public college.
College officials accused Polly Anna Olsen, a paralegal student at Northwest Wisconsin Technical College, of violating school policies because she was handing out cards with Bible verses and other encouraging messages. A campus security officer even prevented her from physically handing out her Valentine’s cards.
However, Olsen did not let that dissuade her and opted to take a stand for her rights. When asked about why she decided to fight, she responded:
“It’s not just my rights, it’s everyone’s rights on campus that have been violated.”
Today, we are happy to report that Olsen won her case thanks to the intervention of the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty. Judge William Griesbach—a conservative-appointed judge—specifically stated:
“There can be no doubt that in handing out her home-made Valentines to her fellow students, friends, and staff at NWTC, Olsen was engaged in a constitutionally protected form of expression.”
That ruling protects her rights and also sets a precedent that can help protect the First Amendment freedoms of thousands of other public college students.
Christian calligraphers and painters Jonna Duka and Breanna Koski—owners of Brush & Nib Studio—recently won their case at the Arizona Supreme Court thanks to the efforts of our friends, the Alliance Defending Freedom.
Like many people of faith in America, Duka and Koski happily serve everyone in their community, but choose not to create custom work that conveys a message that runs contrary to their sincerely held religious beliefs—including work that would force them to participate in same-sex weddings.
When a lawsuit was filed against them for not creating art for a same-sex marriage ceremony, they took a stand for their faith—and they emerged victorious in the end.
In its opinion, the court issued a powerful statement about the constitutional rights of people of faith:
“The rights of free speech and free exercise, 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. These guarantees protect the right of every American to express their beliefs in public. This includes the right to create and sell words, paintings, and art that express a person’s sincere religious beliefs.”
With its decision, the Arizona Supreme Court took a major step to maintain America’s first freedoms. It set a precedent that will surely be helpful in protecting the rights of other independent business-owners who’ve been attacked for choosing to run their companies consistent with their faith.
In particular, this victory—as well as a similar decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit in favor of two Christian videographers in Minnesota—is yet another sign of hope for a final victory in one of First Liberty’s own cases, Sweet Cakes by Melissa. In that case, our legal team is fighting to vindicate the rights of award-winning cake artist Melissa Klein at the Oregon Court of Appeals.
These victories demonstrate how the body of law in our country is returning to an understanding of the Constitution more in line with the vision of our Founders—a vision in which Americans shouldn’t have to fear losing their job, or their business, for simply living out their faith.