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Judicial Magicians on the Seventh Circuit: Hively v. Ivy Tech

Failing to gain enough popular support for its radical social agenda, the progressive Left routinely attempts to skirt the legislative process and implement its policies through judicial fiat. The latest example of this strategy was on display last month in the case of Hively v. Ivy Tech.

Kimberly Hively, an open lesbian and adjunct professor at Ivy Tech Community College in Indiana, repeatedly sought but was denied an opportunity to interview for full-time employment at the college. Naturally, she filed suit, claiming that Ivy Tech discriminated against her based on her sexual orientation.

Undeterred by the fact that federal law does not prohibit sexual orientation discrimination, Hively sued under Title VII, the statute that forbids sex discrimination. The law states in part:

“It shall be an unlawful employment practice for an employer . . . to discriminate against any individual . . . because of such individual’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.”

The phrase “sexual orientation” is conspicuously absent from this provision. Nonetheless, Hively insisted that Title VII forbids employers from making decisions based on an employee’s sexual orientation because the term “sex” covers sexual orientation. Nearly a dozen plaintiffs before Hively (and likely dozens more) have made a similar argument in courts across the country, though most judges have found it unconvincing. Hively, however, managed to find a sympathetic ear at the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, the highest federal court in the circuit covering Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin, and a sister circuit to the much-maligned and regularly overturned Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Dismissing not only the court’s own prior rulings but the rulings of all nine federal circuit courts to consider the matter, a majority of judges on the Seventh Circuit held that Hively could sue for sexual orientation discrimination under Title VII. Like pulling rabbits out of hats, these magicians in judges’ robes conjured up a law that forbids sexual orientation discrimination where a law forbidding only sex discrimination exists. A quick examination of the majority’s argument reveals the deceitful method behind the “magic.”

The Trick

So how does the majority equate sex discrimination with sexual orientation discrimination? Writing for the majority, Chief Judge Diane Wood begins by accepting as true Hively’s allegation that Ivy Tech refused to interview her because she is a homosexual. So far, so good.[1]  Next, however, Wood claims that, had Hively been a man married to a woman rather than a woman married to a woman, Ivy Tech would not have refused to interview her for a promotion. Because Ivy Tech treated a female employee differently from the way it treats male employees, Hively’s case boils down to a classic example of sex-based discrimination. Or so it would seem.

The problem is that the language used in the law is not ambiguous. As dissenting Judge Diane Sykes observes, no reasonable, English-speaking individual could read the law and conclude that it bans discrimination because of sexual orientation. Therefore, the court should not have reached beyond the plain meaning of the language to interpret the statute.

Yet because a plain reading of the law would reach a result that she personally found objectionable, Wood went to create ambiguity where none existed. To mask her dishonest interpretive method, she surreptitiously shifts the audience’s attention from the identity trait at issue (homosexuality) to an activity (intimate association with women).

Pulling Back the Curtain

As any reasonable person in this day and age could tell you, identifying as a homosexual is not the same as intimately associating with a person of the same sex. While one may result in the other, the two are conceptually distinct; an individual may identify as a homosexual—that is, someone who is romantically and sexually attracted to members of the same sex—without being in an actual relationship with a member of the same sex. Moreover, one would imagine that if Ivy Tech did object to hiring or promoting homosexual individuals, it would not matter if that individual was married or dating a same-sex individual; the objectionable trait alone (being gay) would suffice. By shifting focus from sexual orientation to intimate association, Wood is then able to draw a comparison between Hively and a straight, male employee that would lead a less-than-attentive reader to conclude that sex discrimination has taken place.

Leftist judges habitually apply this kind of reasoning in similar cases. Take the case of Barronelle Stutzman, who was sued by a longtime customer when she declined to serve as a florist for his upcoming same-sex wedding, or Aaron and Melissa Klein, owners of Sweet Cakes by Melissa, who incurred the wrath of the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries when they declined to bake a custom cake for a gay couple’s wedding ceremony. In both suits, the small business owners did not object to their customers’ homosexuality, but to participating in a ceremony solemnizing an arrangement that offended their personal beliefs.

Yet like the Seventh Circuit in Hively, the Washington Supreme Court and the Oregon Court of Appeals deliberately ignored the difference between the trait and the activity and ruled against the small business owners. These federal judges—each of whom swore to uphold the rule of law—simply decided that their personal views take precedence over a plain reading of the statute. Thanks to their dishonest interpretive methods, small business owners across the country are now forced to choose between their conscience and their livelihood.

Unfortunately, Ivy Tech has announced that it will not appeal, meaning that the Supreme Court will not have an opportunity to correct the Seventh Circuit’s flawed logic in the near future. However, given the existing circuit split and the fact that the notoriously Left-leaning Ninth Circuit has yet to consider the matter, there is still a good chance that the Court will have that opportunity in the years to come.

 

[1] At the dismissal motion stage, the court accepts that the claims brought by the Plaintiff are true to determine whether the Plaintiff has a legitimate legal complaint.


Christina is a freelance legal blogger from the “other” Washington (Washington, D.C.). She received her law degree from American University and her undergraduate degree from the University of Notre Dame.

We Don’t Give Up Our Inalienable Rights When We Go Into Business

Surprisingly – or maybe not – the decision made by the Washington State Supreme Court regarding Arlene’s Flowers last month went widely unreported. Although the Court’s decision was upsetting to religious liberty supporters, the outcome was already expected by most when the Attorney General’s crusade against Barronelle Stutzman was first made public. Washington State has been overstepping its legitimate jurisdiction for years now, and many pro-family advocates already understand that we are fighting an uphill battle. What is amazing, though, isn’t the decision itself, but the arguments I saw on social media in favor of the Court’s decision.

I came across some interesting things when reading through an online comment thread this morning. First, people don’t seem to understand the difference between a privately owned business and a publicly owned business. Their argument falsely assumes that a business operated out of the privacy of a home on a referral basis would have the right to deny service; however, should the entrepreneur choose to open a shop open to the public, the owner’s rights must be jettisoned. But in reality, operating a business that is open to the public does not mean it is a “publicly owned business” or that the business owner’s rights should be subjected to the demands of the mob.

There are several different types of business structures. Sole proprietorship is the most common and refers to a business that is owned (and typically operated) by one person. This person usually sinks everything they own into their business. A proprietor is legally and financially responsible for their business; if, for example, a business is sued, the proprietor’s assets will be used to pay the damages. Another business arrangement is a partnership, in which two or more people enter into a business agreement and still retain full liability. Limited liability companies (LLCs) are structured similarly to a partnership, but such an arrangement provides some protection to the owners against accidents or lawsuits. There are also corporations which act as a separate entity from their owner(s) entirely. All of these businesses are private. The owners retain their rights. A person does not relinquish their fundamental, inalienable, constitutionally-protected rights when he or she enters into business.

The individual then tried to argue that refusing services based on politics is acceptable while refusing business based on conscience is somehow abhorrent. To someone looking at it from an objective, logical standpoint, this assertion makes little sense. Why is discrimination motivated out of political beliefs allowed when discrimination rooted in religious beliefs is not acceptable? If you’re going to decry religious discrimination, then you cannot reasonably support political discrimination.

Perhaps the most erroneous argument I heard on this thread was the claim that there are protected classes of citizens. These protected classes are groups of people who, because of various claims of racism, bigotry, sexism, and homophobia, claim to need additional protections under the law. This does a serious disservice to the LGBTQ community by essentially making them second-class citizens. One commentator refers to this as “the soft bigotry of low expectations,” meaning that some feel these groups need additional protections not afforded to other groups of people because the marginalized groups are helpless without those protections. The progressive Left uses these tactics to create dependence, exacerbating these issues to assemble a larger voting block which allows them to remain in office (and receive a substantial paycheck). In return, they promise to fight for societal validation and respect for those groups. In his dissent over the same-sex marriage decision, Justice Thomas said, “The government cannot bestow dignity, and it cannot take it away.”

Conservatives fight against these special protections because no one’s rights should be placed above those of another. It is man’s nature to have dissenting opinions. Everyone will never agree on everything, and it is not possible to have a society where no one’s feelings are hurt. But thankfully, we do live in a society where everyone is afforded the same rights under the law. Because government cannot protect the feelings of some without violating the rights of others, its role is to protect everyone’s religious liberty, conscience rights, and freedom of speech and association, even for those who the majority finds distasteful or offensive. Perhaps Thomas Jefferson put it best when he said, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights…”

 

Kyli Erickson is a guest contributor to the FPIW Blog.

Religious Liberty: The Kleins’ Battle is Our Battle

The freedom to discern right from wrong is among the most fundamental of human rights. It is so central to our being that it is a defining aspect of human nature itself. If we have no conscience, or no freedom to express our conscience, then we are denied part of our humanity.

Freedom of conscience was on trial on Thursday before the Oregon Court of Appeals. Aaron and Melissa Klein and their business, Sweet Cakes by Melissa, are currently the subject of a major religious freedom lawsuit. The Kleins lost their bakery and were fined $135,000 for declining to create a custom-made wedding cake for a same-sex marriage. Also of note, the Kleins were given a gag order by the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries, preventing them from speaking publicly about the details of the case or their religious beliefs.

This comes on the heels of Richland, WA, florist Barronelle Stutzman losing her case in the Washington State Supreme Court (Stutzman was sued by Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson after she declined to provide a same-sex wedding). These cases, and the many like them currently being litigated around the country, are not about homosexuality or Christianity. What is at stake is the fundamental liberty and natural right of each of us as American citizens to live our lives according to our sincerely-held beliefs.

For small business owners everywhere, many state governments, including Washington and Oregon, are making their position clear: deny your own conscience or give up your business, have your savings accounts emptied, and possibly spend time in jail.

Canadian philosopher Stefan Molyneux explains the issue well: “If you have no freedom of conscience, you have no freedom at all. Conscience must be inviolate. It’s the essence of who we are.”

Likewise, “When people can force you to go against what your conscience dictates, they own you more deeply than any slave master,” Molyneux said on his Freedomain Radio show.

You may not personally know Aaron and Mellissa Klein, Barronelle Stutzman, Donald and Evelyn Knapp, or Cynthia and Robert Gifford, but these people represent the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. Their battle is our battle. If they continue losing in court, the government will have the unchecked power to strong-arm individuals of any race, religion or creed into violating their conscience. It is my hope that every individual, Christian and Atheist, liberal and conservative, Democrat and Republican, straight and gay, will reject that dastardly kind of totalitarianism.

 

James Silberman is a guest contributor to the FPIW Blog. He is a pro-life activist from Gig Harbor, WA, and a student at Whitworth University.

Freedom of Association: Does it Exist or Not?

Last month, fashion designer Sophie Theallet said she would refuse to dress First Lady Melania Trump and encouraged fellow designers to follow her lead.

Believing that Donald Trump’s presidential campaign unleashed “the rhetoric of racism, sexism and xenophobia,” Theallet said that her personal convictions of “diversity, individual freedom, and respect for all lifestyles” disallowed her from “dressing or associating in any way” with the first lady.

“As a family-owned company, our bottom line is not just about money. We value our artistic freedom and always humbly seek to contribute to a more humane, conscious and ethical way to create in this world,” Theallet wrote in an email to the fashion designers.

Many of those on the political left cheered Theallet’s courage in taking a bold stand against ideas she finds contemptible. After all, isn’t Theallet’s decision to discriminate against the president-elect’s wife protected under freedom of association, the constitutional right that enables her to decide for herself who she will do business with?

Maybe freedom of association only applies to those on the left?

Ironically, the same people that extolled Theallet’s choice not to dress Melania Trump have long denied that Christians share the same right exercised by the fashion designer.

Here in Washington State, Barronelle Stutzman, a septuagenarian Christian florist, is facing the wrath of the state after she refused to decorate a same-sex wedding. Like Theallet, Stutzman believed that her moral conviction demanded that she not provide a service. And like Theallet, Stutzman felt that her conviction precluded her from using her artistic talents to support or endorse something she views as morally inappropriate.

Unlike Theallet, who was celebrated by liberals everywhere, Stutzman ended up in court being sued for discrimination by the homosexual couple and Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson. Because the state has sued her in her personal and professional capacities, she stands to lose her home, life savings, retirement, and business.

In oral arguments presented to the Washington State Supreme Court last month, Attorney General Ferguson claimed that Christians surrender their right to act upon their religious convictions when they start businesses.

To make matters worse, Stutzman isn’t alone. Christians in other states are also being targeted for exercising their right to free association – the same right that protects Theallet’s decision not to dress the wife of a man who holds views she believes to be immoral.

According to the ACLU, “Religion is being used as an excuse to discriminate against and harm others…. The ACLU works to defend religious liberty and to ensure that no one is either discriminated against nor denied services because of someone else’s religious beliefs.”

I’d love to ask the ACLU why they believe it’s permissible for a fashion designer to discriminate against First Lady Trump because of political convictions, yet it’s unacceptable for a Christian to refrain from using her artistic expression for an event she finds morally objectionable.

Our nation’s founding fathers believed that all individuals, including business owners, were entitled to freedom of association. Businesses and customers had the right to decide whether they wanted to do business with someone else. If the other party engaged in morally objectionable behaviors, or if the other party was asking you to violate your personal convictions, then you had the right to refuse to do business with them.

Yet the political left, which has long denied that businesses and individuals possess this fundamental right in issues of sexual orientation and religious conviction, seems perfectly fine with a fashion designer not providing a professional service to the First Lady of the United States.

This intellectual dishonesty from the political left is noxious.

America needs to decide whether it will remain faithful to its historical tradition of protecting freedom of association and other conscience rights for everyone, regardless of their religious and political beliefs. If not, it needs to apply the standard consistently. There shouldn’t be a different standard for Christian florists and liberal fashion designers.

Blaine Conzatti is a columnist and 2016 Research Fellow at the Family Policy Institute of Washington. He can be reached at Blaine@FPIW.org.

Quick Take on Washington State’s Judicial Races and Ballot Measures

With ballots hitting mailboxes beginning today, Washingtonians are choosing how to vote on a wide variety of ballot items. Here’s some information on some of the lesser-known items on your ballot.

Judicial Races

Three of the Washington Supreme Court’s nine justices are up for re-election. The court, thought by many to be one of the most progressive and liberal supreme courts in the United States, has handed down some very unpopular decisions in recent years. You can read more about those decisions here.

Chief Justice Barbara Madsen (website) joined the court in 1992 as the first woman to be popularly elected to the Court in Washington state history. She was re-elected in 1998, 2004, and 2010, and has presided over the court as Chief Justice since 2010. Madsen is being challenged by Kittitas County Prosecutor Greg Zempel (website), who has served in that role for 22 years.

Justice Charles Wiggins (website) was first elected to the Washington Supreme Court in 2010. Judge David Larson (website), who serves as the presiding Judge at the Federal Way Municipal Court, is challenging him for the seat.

Justice Mary Yu (website) has served since being appointed to the Supreme Court since 2014, after 14 years as a King County trial court judge. She is the first lesbian to serve on the Supreme Court, and is being challenged by David DeWolf (website), a retired constitutional law professor from Gonzaga.

Challengers Zempel, Larson, and DeWolf are being supported by right-of-center interests in an effort to bring more balance to the Supreme Court.

There are also dozens of lower court races of interest around the state as well, such as the race between Judge Alex Ekstrom – the judge who ruled against Barronelle Stutzman – and his challenger, Alicia Berry, a lawyer who represented Mrs. Stutzman in that case. Please consult the voter guide from the Secretary of State’s office to learn more about candidates in those local races.

Ballot Measures

Initiative No. 1433 concerns labor standards:

  • This measure would increase the state minimum wage to $11.00 in 2017, $11.50 in 2018, $12.00 in 2019, and $13.50 in 2020, require employers to provide paid sick leave, and adopt related laws.

Initiative No. 1464 concerns campaign finance laws and lobbyists:

  • This measure would create a campaign-finance system; allow residents to direct state funds to candidates; repeal the non-resident sales-tax exemption; restrict lobbying employment by certain former public employees; and add enforcement requirements.

Initiative No. 1491 concerns court-issued extreme risk protection orders temporarily preventing access to firearms:

  • This measure would allow police, family, or household members to obtain court orders temporarily preventing firearms access by persons exhibiting mental illness, violent or other behavior indicating they may harm themselves or others.

Initiative No. 1501 concerns seniors and vulnerable individuals:

  • This measure would increase the penalties for criminal identity theft and civil consumer fraud targeted at seniors or vulnerable individuals; and exempt certain information of vulnerable individuals and in-home caregivers from public disclosure.

Initiative No. 732 concerns taxes:

  • This measure would impose a carbon emission tax on certain fossil fuels and fossil-fuel-generated electricity, reduce the sales tax by one percentage point and increase a low-income exemption, and reduce certain manufacturing taxes.

Initiative No. 735 concerns a proposed amendment to the federal constitution:

  • This measure would urge the Washington state congressional delegation to propose a federal constitutional amendment that constitutional rights belong only to individuals, not corporations, and constitutionally-protected free speech excludes the spending of money.

Barronelle Stutzman Hearing, Rally Scheduled for November 15

Barronelle Stutzman, the 72-year old floral artist and grandmother being sued by Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson and the ACLU for exercising her constitutionally protected freedom to act consistent with her faith, will be in Court on Tuesday, November 15th as the Washington Supreme Court hears oral arguments.

Stutzman served her longtime friend and customer – and his partner – for nearly 10 years, but could not participate in and design floral arrangements for his same-sex ceremony because of her love of Jesus and his teachings about marriage. Barronelle faces losing everything she owns for acting consistent with her deeply held convictions.

The arguments begin at 9:00 am, but we will begin gathering at the Carlson Theatre at Bellevue College at 7:30 am. We recommend arriving early to get in line to ensure a seat. Some of us will remain outside for a peaceful prayer gathering during oral arguments. We will provide signs and refreshments. A debrief will take place after the arguments conclude with Barronelle (location TBD). Please bring your family and friends and join us in supporting Barronelle!

The Carlson Theatre is located at, 3000 Landerholm Circle SE, Bellevue, WA, 98007-6406.  You can let us know that you plan to attend by RSVPing to the rally Facebook event.

Washington AG Bob Ferguson Joins Effort to Punish Freedoms of Thought, Speech

 

After months of political posturing, the targeted attack by several attorneys general against the free speech and free association rights of public policy organizations and private companies has ended. But the fight to preserve free speech rights is not over.

In March, attorneys general from fifteen states, including Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson, joined with attorneys general from the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands to punish organizations that they claim have spread misinformation about the existence and consequences of global warming.

Known as Attorneys General United For Clean Power, the group is “dedicated to coming up with creative ways to enforce laws being flouted by the fossil fuels industry and their allies in their short-sighted efforts to put profits above the interests of the American people and the integrity of our financial markets,” said New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman at the coalition’s inauguratory press conference, in which the attorneys general were joined by climate change propagandist and former Vice President Al Gore.

The group blames man-caused climate change for more violent storms and receding ice shelves in the Arctic, despite studies from reputable scientists that climate change is not causing extreme weather and that the polar ice caps have not receded since 1979, the first year NASA satellite data was collected.

“We have heard the scientists,” said Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. “There is no dispute [about global warming], but there is confusion – confusion sown by those with an interest in profiting from the confusion and creating misconceptions in the eyes of the American public.”

Shortly after the formation of the coalition, U.S. Virgin Islands Attorney General Claude E. Walker served subpoenas on Exxon and the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a free-market think-tank that does climate research.  It has published studies critical of climate change.

The subpoena demanded ten years of communications, research, and, perhaps most worrisomely, donor information. CEI President Kent Lassman called the subpoena a “baseless fishing expedition” and a “flagrant violation” of the First Amendment.

Thankfully, Attorney General Walker recently withdrew his subpoenas. CEI is seeking court-imposed sanctions against the attorney general.

Many are concerned that the inquisition mounted against certain political ideologies will create a chilling effect on public policy organizations. It is likely that think tanks, academics, and policymakers will think twice before conducting research and publishing studies and policy recommendations that contradict politically correct narratives.

There is little disagreement among legal scholars that research published by think tanks is constitutionally protected speech. The free exchange of ideas that is promoted by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is necessary for a constitutional republic. The use of persuasion in open public discourse allows for the best ideas to supersede bad ideas.

Despite an entire apparatus of schools and media outlets that disseminate global warming propaganda, climate alarmists are losing the debate in the public square. Less than half of Americans believe the government should be doing more to mitigate climate change, and the number of Americans who believe climate change is a serious problem is declining.

Not content with using persuasion to win arguments, Attorneys General United for Clean Power decided to use the force of law to criminalize the viewpoints of their political opponents.

Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson is well-acquainted with using the force of law to subdue those with whom he disagrees. Ferguson has been embroiled in a legal battle with Barronelle Stutzman, a Washington florist who declined to provide her creative services for a same-sex wedding ceremony. He also filed an amicus brief in the lawsuit against an Olympia pharmacy that declined to dispense abortifacients.

“While Ferguson may be sincerely concerned about climate change, the idea of the attorney general filing lawsuits against people who have different perspectives is highly problematic,” said FPIW’s Executive Director Joseph Backholm. “We should all be concerned about the instinct of our elected officials to say there is only one, absolute, infallible position on these issues that is above critique.”

It remains to be seen what will be the next steps of Attorneys General United for Clean Power.  Though Competitive Enterprise Institute and Exxon won the first battle, the attorneys general have now paved the way for using the legal system to silence people with opposing views. That should be concerning to every American who values our fundamental rights.

Judge That Ruled Against Stutzman to Face Electoral Challenge from Stutzman Lawyer

 

An attorney who formerly represented Barronelle Stutzman and Arlene’s Flowers has announced that she’s running for Superior Court Judge in Position 3, a seat currently held by Judge Alexander Ekstrom.

In 2013, Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson sued Stutzman for alleged discrimination when she declined to prepare flowers for a longtime customer’s gay wedding.  The suit was filed with the Washington Superior Court in District Benton and Franklin counties.

The judge presiding over this case was none other than Judge Alexander Ekstrom, who ruled against Stutzman and in favor of the the Government on summary judgement. Stutzman has appealed and the Washington State Supreme Court has agreed to take up the case.  Stutzman was sued her her personal and professional capacity and faces significant financial penalties shoudl she lose.

Attorney Alicia Berry, a principal partner at the Liebler, Connor, Berry & St. Hilaire Legal Firm, says people have lost trust in the judicial system.  “This loss of trust in a fundamental government system designed to protect the people from oppressive government oversight and regulation needs to be addressed,” she says on her campaign website.

Her opponent, incumbent judge Alexander Ekstrom, was appointed to the seat in 2014 by Governor Jay Inslee. “Religious motivation does not excuse compliance with the law,” he said, in his 60-page opinion ruling against Stutzman.

Kennewick Debates Religious Freedom, Attorney General Misrepresents It

Last night, the Kennewick City Council discussed a non-binding resolution involving religious freedom in front of a standing room only crowd.  The resolution, sponsored by Kennewick City Councilman John Trumbo, calls on Attorney General Bob Ferguson to drop his lawsuit against Arlene’s Flowers and asks the legislature to protect conscience rights and religious freedom.

A similar resolution has also been introduced in the Pasco city Council by Councilman Bob Hoffman.

In advance of that committee meeting, Attorney General Bob Ferguson sent a letter to Mr. Trumbo and Mr. Hoffman that was published in the Tri-City Herald. 

That letter, the full text of which can be seen below, contains a number of statements that deserve a response. (larger light green text is excerpts from the letter)

[Barronelle Stutzman and her attorneys]  claim that Arlene’s Flowers should be allowed to serve those customers whom Ms. Stutzman’s religion approves of, and exclude those whom it does not.

It is hard to view this statement as anything other than willful dishonesty.  The Attorney General’s office has been litigating against Barronelle Stutzman for more than two years now.  In those two years, Barronelle Stutzman has repeatedly stated in depositions, in legal briefs, and in oral arguments that she was and is happy to serve people who identify as gay.  She has never denied service to someone because of their sexual orientation and she never will. She will sell flowers to gay people and even for gay weddings.  Her only objection is to providing floral services for a same-sex wedding, which would require her to be a personal participant in the wedding.

As the Supreme Court has long recognized, religious freedom is not the freedom to discriminate against others in the name of religion.

The Supreme Court has never taken this issue up.  Efforts by government to force people to be part of events they disagree with are very new because historically we have respected the rights of individuals not to be part of events they were uncomfortable with.  The New Mexico Supreme Court said that a photographer could be forced to take pictures of a same-sex wedding, but a Kentucky Court recently acknowledged that a printer has the right to decline to print t-shirts for a gay pride parade because he disagrees with that message.  This issue is far from settled, in fact it is just getting started.

Rather, [religious freedom] is the right to the freedom of worship, and to be free from discrimination because of our religion.

The First Amendment protects the “free exercise” of religion.  The version of the First Amendment which protects only the right to believe what you want and attend the church of your choice exists only in the minds of those who seek to control us, not in the Constitution.

If I go to a restaurant with my young twins to celebrate their First Communion, I should not have to worry about whether the restaurant will refuse to serve me because we are Catholic.

Of course everyone agrees with this.  However, if Mr. Ferguson and his young twins wanted the restaurant owner to cater their exorcism,  an atheist business owner should  have the right to decline to participate without fear of being sued for discrimination on the basis of religion.  After all, it is not the person requesting the service they object to, but the nature of the service requested.

Arlene’s Flowers refused to serve Mr. Freed and Mr. Ingersoll because they are gay.

As discussed above, this also is not true.  Arlene’s Flowers served Mr. Freed and Mr. Ingersoll for nine years knowing they were gay.  Arlene’s Flowers stands ready to serve them again. Arlene’s Flowers serves everyone, regardless of their sexual orientation.  But there are some events they are uncomfortable being part of.

Washington State law says that if a business chooses to provide a service to heterosexual customers it must provide that service to gay and lesbian customers.

Washington State law says no such thing.  It says only that you cannot discriminate on the basis of race, religions, gender, veteran status, sexual orientation, etc… Non-discrimination laws were created to make sure that businesses did not have explicit policies stating “No Jews”, “No Mexicans”, “No Mormons” or anything of the kind.  By happily and graciously serving everyone, Arlene’s Flowers abides by both the letter and the spirit of the law.

The Attorney General’s interpretation of the law means that the wedding industry is now off-limits to those who believe marriage is a relationship between a man and a woman.  America was created specifically in response to the environment in Europe where people had to hold a certain set of beliefs in order to have equal access to economic opportunity.

We must resist the attempts to impose a new state religion built around a specifically belief about sexuality.

The Kennewick City Council agreed to take this issue up at a future meeting.

As a result, this debate will continue in Kennewick and around the country.  It will continue because it is fundamental to who we are as a nation.  Will individuals enjoy the right of association and the free exercise of religion in the way we always have? Will we surrender those rights to a government desiring to control us in the name of tolerance?

The weakness of the Attorney General’s position is exposed by his need to repeatedly misrepresent Arlene’s Flowers position. If you have strong arguments, the truth is your friend.

Still, the outcome of this debate will not be determined by who has the greatest argument, but who has the strongest resolve.

To share your thoughts with Attorney General Ferguson about this letter or his lawsuit against Arlene’s Flowers, Call his office at 360-753-6200. Be respectful, but be heard.

Contact your legislators and ask them to protect conscience rights and religious freedom. You can email your legislators here or call the legislative hotline at 1-800-562-6000.

 

Below is the full letter from Attorney General Ferguson. Click on the images to enlarge.

AG Letter 1AG Letter 2

Religious Liberty – Attacks Continue to Mount

In the ongoing battle to preserve religious liberty, two more small business owners are feeling the heat of litigation over their views on traditional marriage. It is likely you have already heard about Barronelle Stutzman, Aaron and Melissa Klein, and so many others who decline to participate in actions that violate their conscience and deeply held religious beliefs. This summer, Richard and Betty Odgaard will join their ranks and close the doors to their 13-year-old business.

As owners of Görtz Haus Gallery in Grimes, Iowa, the Odgaards have operated a wedding venue, bistro, flower shop, and art gallery in an old stone church since 2002. When a gay couple approached them requesting to rent the church for their wedding, the Odgaards declined, knowing this decision would not be congruous with their Mennonite faith and convictions. By the next day, the gay couple had filed a report with the Iowa Civil Rights Commission. There was no trial by jury – only an administrative judgment by the same entity with whom the gay couple had filed their complaint. Since the laws in Iowa place the burden of proof on the Odgaards, they knew the judgment was all but predetermined and inevitable. The Beckett Fund, whose lawyers were defending the Odgaards, notes that “the State refused to dismiss its case against the Odgaards even after the two men—contrary to their prior sworn statements—admitted they had been married months before asking the Odgaards to host their ceremony.” In addition to this, the church at Görtz Haus was not entitled to the same protections which Iowa currently allows houses of worship, due to its public service capacity. The Iowa Civil Rights Commission also denied the Odgaards access to the Iowa state court to defend their claims.

The Odgaards did not admit to discrimination, but agreed to a $5,000 settlement. They initially closed the wedding portion of their business to avoid further lawsuits but were isolated from community support since they could not speak out while the case was pending. Ultimately, the firestorm of negative press and boycotts proved too much and they will be closing their business completely this August. Speaking of those who participated in the boycott, Richard Odgaard said,

“They didn’t come in because the people who are against us are more vocal than the people who are in our court.”

Let us take this statement as a call to action and an encouragement to speak out while we can. Those with whom we disagree may be vocal, but we must be too.

_____________________________________________________________________________

For more details on the Odgaards’ story, check out this article written by Kelsey Harkness at the Daily Signal.

You can send a note of encouragement to the Odgaards here: hischildren@gods-design.org

Stay informed and find out how you can join FPIW in making a difference by checking out the opportunities here