Last week we wrote you about the fact that Attorney General Bob Ferguson is not only suing Arlene’s Flowers because of her decision not to decorate for a same-sex “wedding”, but is going after her personal assets as well. We are encouraging you to contact Bob Ferguson’s office and also go to the Benton County Superior Courthouse this Friday, December 19th, to show your support for Barronelle Stutzman and conscience rights.
For those of you who did, you likely got a form letter response. Several people asked how to respond, so below I have made some comments that I hope will help you continue the dialogue with the Attorney General:
Dear Concerned Washington Citizen,
The Attorney General must enforce the laws of the state of Washington. Since 1973, the Consumer Protection Act has prohibited all businesses and business owners – regardless of personal religious beliefs – from discriminating against their customers. In 2006, the Legislature amended the law to include protections against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. If a business provides wedding flowers to opposite-sex couples, then it must provide wedding flowers to same-sex couples.
It is true that the Attorney General must enforce the laws of the state of Washington. It is also true that a law was passed in 2006 which includes protections on the basis of sexual orientation. The idea that a business must provide flowers to same-sex weddings is simply his opinion. Arlene’s Flowers has served the gay couple involved in this case and has even employed gay people in the past. This was not an issue of a business that discriminated against a class of people but instead a decision not to be part of a particular event that was inconsistent with the values of the business. She has, would, and continues to do business with people who identify as gay.
The Attorney General’s Office first asked Ms. Stutzman, the owner of Arlene’s Flowers, to comply with state law by sending her a letter informing her of the law and asking her to formally agree to no longer discriminate against same-sex couples. Had she signed that agreement, she would not have been subject to any costs or fees. Instead, her lawyer sent us a letter stating Ms. Stutzman would fight any efforts to comply with the long-standing state law. At that point, we filed a suit asking the court to order Ms. Stutzman to follow the law.
It is true that the Attorney General’s office sent a demand letter telling her to surrender her conscience rights and make a contribution to an organization that she did not philosophically support in order to avoid being sued. But like the lawsuit itself, that was also an act of harassment, bullying, and intimidation unbecoming of a public servant.
The Attorney General’s position is in direct conflict with Section 11 of the Washington State constitution which guarantees “Absolute freedom of conscience in all matters of religious sentiment, belief and worship, shall be guaranteed to every individual, and no on shall be molested or disturbed in person or property on account of religion;” Contrary to the Attorney General’s position, the legislature does not have the authority to repeal sections of the State Constitution that do not comport with their desire to bully the world into being “more tolerant”.
Attorney General Ferguson respects people’s religious beliefs and personal opinions. As an individual, Ms. Stutzman has the right to religious freedom and expression of her beliefs. However, as a business owner she must follow Washington state law which prohibits discrimination in the marketplace on the basis of sexual orientation-regardless of personal viewpoints.
Either Bob Ferguson is simply being dishonest about respecting religious freedom or he has redefined what religious freedom means. Religious freedom is more than simply the right to have beliefs inside your head. It includes the right to make decisions in the real world on the basis of those beliefs. His apparent understanding of religious freedom means that we are free to have our own thoughts as long as we only express them in church or our home. That is the opposite of religious freedom.
Businesses may reserve the right to require shoes or shirts. Similarly, they may refuse to serve someone who is drunk or disorderly. Under Washington state law, however, businesses may not discriminate on the basis of “race, creed, color, national origin, sex, honorably discharged veteran or military status, sexual orientation, or disability.” There is no right to discrimination that a business can reserve.
Again, Arlene’s Flowers did not and does not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation. They have demonstrated repeatedly that they are happy to serve people in same-sex relationships. However, there are some events they are not comfortable being part of. That should be anyone’s right.
Regardless, the letter implies that there is a right to be free from discrimination. While the sentiment is nice, not even Bob Ferguson really believes that. After all, he allows people to discriminate against the shoeless and shirtless.
His position is that the non-discrimination statute passed in 2006, repealed the Constitutional rights to the free exercise of religion, association, and the freedom of speech, which includes the right not to speak, if that is your preference.
That is beyond the legislature’s authority.
In this case, the Attorney General is saying that as a condition of being a flower shop that provides flowers for any kind of wedding, he can force you violate your religious beliefs, associate with activities you’d prefer not to associate with, and communicate messages through your work that violate your beliefs.
I hope this information is helpful in explaining why this office filed suit against Ms. Stutzman and Arlene’s Flowers.
This information is helpful is explaining how the Attorney General believes the non-discrimination law from 2006 repealed a host of state and federal Constitutional rights. But it does not justify his harassment of grandmothers who own small businesses.
Ellen M. Austin Hall
Office of Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson
800 Fifth Avenue, Suite 2000, Seattle, WA 98104
I hope this helps you work through this letter and maybe even inspires further dialogue with the Attorney General’s office. Please be persistent. Be respectful, but be persistent.
Don’t expect to change his mind soon because this lawsuit is about politics. Deep down, the Attorney General probably even knows he’s being a bully. Surely there are people in his family who share Barronelle Stutzman’s beliefs that he knows should not lose their home or business because of their beliefs.
But he hopes to be Governor one day and he has political interests he needs to please in order to make that happen. This is the path he has chosen.
For that reason, it is unlikely that he will be persuaded by arguments. But we should stand up for Barronelle because it is the right thing to do.
The permanent solution to this is a critical mass of people rising up to say, “Enough!”. The legislature could put a stop to this through legislation clarifying that the non-discrimination law does not enable harassment like this. But they won’t unless good policy also becomes good politics.
Demand better behavior from those we elect. Remember, silence is consent.
Call the Attorney General at 360-753-6200 and email your legislators and encourage them to protect conscience rights and religious freedom.