City Councilman Explains Why He’s Standing up for Arlene’s Flowers

This post was written by Pasco Councilman Robert Hoffman. Hoffman has introduced a resolution in support of religious freedom and opposition to the lawsuit brought by Attorney General Bob Ferguson against Arlene’s Flowers. His editorial was published in the Tri-Cities Herald on August 1, 2015.

From my perspective on the city council, here are some observations relating to points raised in the July 14 editorial, “Supporting Arlene’s goes beyond city duties.” It said that Pasco’s Resolution that I proposed is not something to take on the Washington Attorney General about because it is divisive, distracting and goes beyond council duties; this is a national debate, cities should leave well enough alone.

The Sunday, July 19 Tri-City Herald front page article cited a poll finding that 59% of people surveyed think wedding-related businesses should be allowed to refuse service to same-sex couples. Arlene’s Flowers has wide popular support in eastern Washington and the Tri Cities. These are some of the people I represent whose voice should not be ignored while her case is being heard in our courts.

True enough, the case is not about infrastructure, budgets, and zoning changes. Not all council decisions are. And some are contentious. In Pasco we have debated allowing a wet T-shirt contest at the boat races (declined), artwork in city hall, and the Liberty theater, adult bookstore, and prostitution in the downtown back in the 80’s. More recently, Planned Parenthood, pit bulls, fluoride, marijuana ,and e-cigarettes have had a place on the agenda. Other city councils have considered ordinances to set a minimum wage, provide clean needles to drug users, or prohibit gambling. Under the mayor’s leadership and with help from city staff, the Pasco City Council has worked through these various issues, reached a decision, and moved on.

The issue is national, but with a distinct local application. Arlene’s Flowers had a store in Pasco, and the owner had many years involvement with the city. The lawsuit by the state and ACLU had its origins in the Tri Cities.

We can’t just leave well enough alone because we now have faith based businesses in our communities at risk of prosecution if they exercise their freedom. If they follow their conscience and decline wedding-related business activities, the community is the loser because there will be less competition, and higher prices. Historically, people of faith have been good business leaders who understand how to manage risk, capital, and customer desires in the marketplace.

Is the best approach to appeal to the Attorney General? Maybe not. A better way may be towards the legislature to apply the State Constitution Article I, Section 11 on absolute freedom of conscience, into the RCW.

As a council member in Pasco, I have advocated for businesses in Pasco, sometimes to the frustration of council and staff. It’s my duty come along side people caught in the wheels of government, even those with issues some think are outside the box.

7 replies
  1. Bob B
    Bob B says:

    The councilman didn’t read Article I Section 11 of the state constitution it seems. It says that liberty of conscience will not be construed to allow someone to act without regard for the rights of others, and a customer having full access to all services a business offers to the public regardless of creed, sex, or sexual orientation is a civil right as per RCW 49.60.030, passed by both legislature and popular vote.

    Both constitutionally and by law Arlene’s Flowers LLC it’s owner acted illegally as the State Supreme Court will have no choice but to confirm.

    The city council taking a position otherwise will be a Dred Scott kind of decision.

    If the owner is driven to religiously discriminate then sell wedding floral arrangements as a private club or non-profit, but make an offer to the public with their civil rights do so legally and constitutionally..

    • Joseph Backholm
      Joseph Backholm says:

      I do not have a right to force you to do something you don’t want to do. Therefore, if you decline to do something I ask you to do, I cannot claim you are violating my rights. Otherwise, you would be my slave.

      Nor is this a case of class based discrimination. Arlene’s Flowers does not discriminate against anyone based on their sexual orientation. She happily serves gay people and has had gay employees. But there are some events they choose not to be part of.

      Every American has the right not to participate in events and activities we disagree with.

      • Bob b
        Bob b says:

        You repeat the same old errors.

        Arlene’s Flowers LLC voluntarily advertised the availability of wedding floral services to the public knowing full well that customers could buy them regardless of their creed, šęx, or sexual orientation. That someone at that business has a religion that restricts them more than the customer’s does is irrelevant to the customer and their civil rights.

        And that civil right includes full access to all services, so trying to say there is no discrimination because the business will give them some services is no better than the southern restaurant saying they would serve blacks but just not at the lunch counter.

        In a public invitation either the business sells to customers while respecting their civil rights or it doesn’t offer it at all. Our founding fathers here in Washington anticipated things like Stutzman is trying and put it in the state constitution that was NOT what liberty of conscience means.

        Again, FULL access to ALL services. There is no right to religious discrimination by a business offering public accommodations.

        • Joseph Backholm
          Joseph Backholm says:

          This is fiction. And no matter how many times you say it, it still won’t be true.

          There is no business anywhere in the world that believes they are required to provide all their services to every possible customer. And there is no civil right anywhere that entitles you to force a lawyer to represent you or a doctor to treat you (unless there is an emergency of course).

          There are non-discrimination laws which prohibit businesses from refusing to serve certain classes of customers, but the fact that she employs and works with gay people illustrates that Arlene’s Flowers did not behave that way.

          There is no law saying “If you do one wedding, you have to do all weddings.” Weddings are not a protected class, nor should they be. People do, and should, have the freedom to choose the kind of events and activities they want to be part of.

          • Gerriann Reko
            Gerriann Reko says:

            Thank you for the way you are handling the comments about Arlene’s Flowers. We support you 100%.

            In fact, this seems to relate to the Planned Parenthood statement from the AG’s office. Why did he go after Arlene’s Flowers and why can’t he go after Planned Parenthood. It appears to be very biased & political on his part!

          • Bob B
            Bob B says:

            Again, you make the same errors.

            It is Arlene’s Flowers LLC that is required to respect the civil rights of customers, not any particular individual. That’s the whole point, that business had people working there that would have gladly filled the order just as there were others who would not – they can defer to those that will.

            But you know you’re in the wrong when you set up a strawman by tossing in the phrase ‘every possible customer.’ That isn’t the situation.

            The laws says that businesses making public offers can’t refuse customers because of their creed, their sex or their sexual orientation among other qualities. That means if a customer comes in and is a Lutheran and is going to have a wedding completely in accordance with their beliefs the business can’t reject them because of their beliefs. Or because the couple marrying is of the same sex, or because the couple being married is gay, straight, bi or asexual. Sure you can reject a customer because they smell, or because their dad owes you money, or any other reason you want – but you can’t because of those reasons that are protected by the civil rights statutes and the business owner knew that or should have.

            And I don’t know where you are getting your legal information but any exclusion is the same as everything being excluded in the eyes of the law. You can’t have a hotel that says they let all stay but won’t let blacks in the pool. Having black employees doesn’t make that any more legal. Read RCW 49.60.030 it is a RIGHT to have the FULL enjoyment of ANY of the services the business is offering to the public no matter their creed, their sex or their sexual orientation, and the state constitution specifically says that the claim of ‘liberty of conscience’ does not let them act without regard for the rights of others.

            Can’t sell something to people of all beliefs they why are is the business offering it for sale to the public in the first place?

  2. Nora
    Nora says:

    Good for you for your reflective thinking about the best action to take. It does seem logical that a permanent fix is needed, and the legislative route makes sense. I’ll be praying for success with your efforts. Stay the course!


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