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.