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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

Ninth Circuit Court: WA Can Force Pharmacists to Sell Plan B

In the latest development in a case that has lasted nearly a decade, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled yesterday that Washington State can force a pharmacy to sell Plan B despite their moral objections to doing so.

Plan B is a drug many object to because they believe it causes an early state abortion.

In 2007, the Washington State Board of Health created new rules stating that pharmacies must stock and sell Plan B. However, Ralph’s Thriftway challenged the rule and a judge ruled that the First Amendment protected their right to refer customers rather than sell a drug they objected to on moral grounds.

In their ruling yesterday, the Court of Appeals overturned that decision.

Kevin Stormans, President of Stormans Inc, which owns Ralph’s Thriftway, pointed out the irrationality of this decision in light of the general right pharmacists have to give referrals generally. “The state allows pharmacies to refer for all kinds of reasons. In practice, it only bans religiously motivated referrals.”

Mr. Stormans continued, “With 33 pharmacies stocking the drug within five miles of our store, it is extremely disappointing that the court and the state demand that we violate our conscience or lose our family business.”

Kristen Waggoner, lead counsel in the case and Senior Vice President of Legal Services at the Alliance Defending Freedom, noted that, “This case will affect many facilities within the state, including Catholic hospitals and pharmacies, which have made clear they will not dispense these drugs.”

Washington’s Attorney General, Bob Ferguson, who is also suing Arlene’s Flowers because she declined to decorate for a same-sex wedding, called the decision “a major victory for the people of Washington.”

Luke Goodrich, an Attorney for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which helped defend the pharmacists, noted that “no patient has ever been denied timely access to any drug.”

But that didn’t matter.

The Court of Appeals said it was important for states to have the power to force pharmacists to violate their beliefs because, “facilitated referrals could lead to feelings of shame in the patient that could dissuade her from obtaining emergency contraception altogether.”

The Oregon Labor Commission similarly cited hurt feelings to justify a $135,000 fine against a bakery that did not want to bake a same-sex wedding cake. In addition, Justice Kennedy’s decision redefining marriage similarly argued that acknowledging the difference between heterosexual and homosexual relationships condemns people to “live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions.”

While traditionally the job of courts has been to interpret the law, the fact that the courts have appointed themselves guardians of the people’s feelings can only be a bad thing for freedom.

Attorneys for Ralph’s Thriftway have pledged to appeal the ruling. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals is the most frequently overturned.

What can you do in response to this decision?

  1. Contact your legislator and ask them to support legislation that allows Washingtonians to live and work according to their beliefs without fear of unreasonable government intrusion. You can reach them at the legislative hotline at 1-800-562-6000 or email them by clicking here.
  2. If you disagree with Attorney General Bob Ferguson’s belief that this decision is “a major victory for the people of Washington”, call him at 360-753-6200 and let him know.
  3. Forward this email to someone who shares your concern about the rapid loss of liberty and encourage them to do the same. We are the solution to our problems.

Remember, in politics silence is consent. Always be respectful, but don’t be silent.

This story has been edited from its original version to correctly identify the lead counsel in the case. 7/24/15 11:11 am

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,

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.

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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

Judge Rules Against Arlene’s Flowers

In a decision that has significant implications for business owners who hold the historic view on issues of marriage and sexuality, a Benton County Superior Court Judge ruled yesterday that it is illegal to refer business for same-sex ceremonies if you are willing to provide business for any wedding.

Judge Alex Eckstrom ruled that Arlene’s Flowers and its owner, Barronelle Stutzman, violated Washington State’s non-discrimination law when she declined to provide floral services for a long-time customer.

As a result, both the business and personal assets of Barronelle Stutzman are at risk of state seizure.

In his ruling, the judge quickly dismissed the idea that the First Amendment’s guarantee to the free exercise of religion protected Arlene’s Flowers.

In support of his conclusion that the non-discrimination law trumps whatever protections the First Amendment might have once offered, he favorably cited the recent New Mexico Supreme Court decision in which the court ruled that being forced to take pictures of a same-sex commitment ceremony was the “price of citizenship.”

The judge also rejected the argument that the Washington State Constitution’s conscience protections offered any relief.

The State Constitution says that “[a]bsolute freedom of conscience in all matters of religious sentiment, belief and worship, shall be guaranteed to every individual….”

However, the judge concluded that the state could force businesses to choose between their faith and business because the state can restrict religious practices “inconsistent with the peace and safety of the state.”

Apparently, declining to be part of a same-sex wedding is now “inconsistent with the peace and safety of the state.”

While the founders came to this country to flee religious oppression, the court has essentially said that anyone who holds to the historical understanding of marriage and sexuality may not be in the wedding industry.

A couple points to keep in mind with all of this.

Arlene’s Flowers did not and does not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation. She happily serves people who identify as gay, including the customers involved in this incident for nine years.

This was an event that she did not want to be part of.

Opponents of conscience rights argue that if she’s allowed not to be part of a same-sex ceremony that “White’s Only” signs will start appearing in store windows throughout the land.

Here’s the difference.

She objected to the service being requested, not the person requesting the service.

It’s a big difference.

It’s the difference between having a “White’s Only” sign in your business and deciding not to print material for the Black Panthers because you don’t like what they’re about.

One is overt bigotry, the other is simply the ability to be yourself.

Yesterday’s decision is not the end of the story for Arlene’s Flowers. This decision will likely be appealed, and many subsequent decisions may be appealed as well. It could be years before there is a final resolution to this dispute.

However, the need for people to stand alongside Barronelle Stutzman and demonstrate to our government that she is not alone is critical.

Please call your legislators now at 1-800-562-6000 and tell them to act to protect religious freedom. You can also email them by clicking here. Have your friends do the same.

The legislature can solve this problem quickly if they are compelled to.

You can also call Attorney General Bob Ferguson, who filed this lawsuit at 360-753-6200.

Please be respectful in all your comments, but please be heard.

Some are passionately committed to creating a country in which diversity has been thrown on the ash heap of history.

Unless our commitment to preserving religious freedom and conscience rights exceeds their commitment to destroying them, we’ll lose. Just like Barronelle Stutzman did yesterday.

Therapy Ban Resurfaces in the Legislature

In the on-going quest to ban choices they disagree with, a handful of legislators in Olympia have re-introduced bills to prohibit Sexual Orientation Change Effort (SOCE) therapy.

These bills (HB 1972 and SB 5870) would make it professional misconduct for a licensed therapist to help a minor reduce or eliminate unwanted same-sex attraction. As a result, a minor who is experiencing unwanted same-sex attraction would be unable to get professional therapist.

A similar bill was introduced last year and passed the House of Representatives before dying in the Senate without a vote.

The politics behind this issue are not complicated. The homosexual lobby is deeply committed to marginalizing those who disagree with their view of human sexuality.

Generally, non-discrimination laws are the tools used to compel conformity. They have been used to sue florists, bakeries, photographers, and property owners who did not want to participate in a same-sex ceremony.

One counseling student was even kicked out of school for “discrimination” when she referred lesbian clients to another counselor she believed would be better able to help.

However, it is apparently difficult to accuse a therapist who is in the process of counseling a client of discriminating.

“But they disagree with us?” they protest. “They must be punished. What can we do?”

“I know, I know. If they’re not discriminating against gay people, we’ll make it professional misconduct to help a gay person with something we don’t think the gay person should want.”

“Brilliant, why didn’t we think of this before.”

The world of counseling is supposed to be a patient driven process. But this bill makes therapy a legislature driven process, where politicians get to decide if the therapy is politically correct enough to be allowed.

They don’t believe someone should want to change their sexual orientation so they want to make it illegal to try. Believing change is impossible, they are convinced the only possible outcome of such therapy is pain.

Never mind the fact that many people’s feelings have changed and others have made a conscious choice not to identify as gay. The idea that change is either possible or desirable hurts the feelings of some who have no interest in changing or have tried and failed. Since that is true, you should have the good sense to stop talking.

This is America. You’re not allowed to say things that hurt people’s feelings.

Supporters of the bill claim it will stop abuse of kids who identify as gay. They tell stories about shock therapy and children being forced to watch gay pornography from ice baths in an effort to make them associate pain with same-sex attraction.

While that kind of therapy unfortunately did occur in the 60’s and 70’s, those practices are widely condemned, exceedingly rare, and already prohibited as either unprofessionally coercive or simply abusive.

In two years, no evidence has been presented that the type of therapy described has happened anywhere in Washington in recent history. Actual instances of this kind of therapy are (thankfully) so uncommon that proponents in New Jersey were forced to make up stories about camps that abuse kids in an effort to generate sympathy for their position.

Curiously, proponents of this legislation have so far declined to support a bill that would ban aversive therapies like ice baths and shock therapy. Instead, they prefer legislation that regulates talk therapy.

This suggests the motive is less about protecting children from abuse and more about controlling speech they disagree with.

The effort to control speech is why these bills have significant constitutional concerns as well. In addition to prohibiting one perspective on the issue of homosexuality from being communicated, the House bill would also regulate what a pastor or church employee says inside their church, provided they are a licensed therapist.

There will be a hearing on Tuesday, February 17th in Senate Hearing Room 4 for SB 5870 at 10 AM.

If you are a therapist who has experience with this issue that would be willing to help educate children, or if you have personally benefited from this kind of therapy and would like to share your experience with legislators who have very little information about the subject generally, please let us know
by emailing us at info@fpiw.org.

You are encouraged to contact your legislators through the legislative hotline at 1-800-562-6000 and share your thoughts on this or any other bill of interest to you. You can also email them by clicking here.

Your involvement is critical.

If we do nothing, we may fully embrace this brave new world where you can be expected to control your gender but not your impulses.

Redefining Discrimination

By now you probably know that a Florist in Richland, Washington is being sued by the Attorney General because she declined to decorate for a same-sex ceremony.

The lawsuits are based on the belief that declining to be part of that event was discrimination based on sexual orientation.

However, there’s a problem with the argument that she discriminates on the basis of sexual orientation. She has consistently and happily done business with people who identify as gay for years, including the individuals involved in this case. She considered them friends.

Still, the perpetrators of these lawsuits have found a way to rationalize their attempts to ruin the life of a perfectly decent grandmother whose life is a model of how to be charitable without abandoning your convictions; something we used to value in this country.

Since there is no evidence that she actually discriminates based on sexual orientation, they have redefined what discrimination means in order to make it illegal to have a business and disagree with them about same-sex “marriage”.

The old definition of discrimination meant that you couldn’t have a policy of refusing to business with a protected class. Meaning, you can’t say “no Mexicans allowed” or “Protestants only”.

The new definition of discrimination means this: if you offer a particular service for any purpose, you must offer that same service for every purpose. In her case, if you’re willing to do a wedding for a man and a woman, you must be willing to do a wedding for two men.

Where their argument stops no one knows.

Is Mrs. Stutzman obligated to decorate for a Satanic wedding as well? Can she be forced to do a wedding for a thruple (three people of various genders or maybe no gender at all)? If a family member was to be involved in a wedding she did not personally support, will she be compelled to attend at gun point if the family member was willing to pay for her services?

Or maybe gay is the only thing you’re not allowed to say no to? No one knows, yet.

Whatever your business is, stop and think about how this new understanding of “discrimination” could affect what you do?

If you’re a general contractor, surely you can imagine a contract you would decline out of personal conviction. The new ISIS community center perhaps.

You’re a website designer. You probably want the right to decline to build a support group page for pedophiles or a memorial site for “Great, but not forgotten, Nazi heroes”?

Every lawyer has both a right and obligation to decline a case if he feels he cannot provide zealous representation for the client.

You think the Christian thing to do is to decorate for the gay wedding? Great, have a great time decorating for it.

But we should be able to agree that people shouldn’t be forced to choose between their business and their faith. That’s what they do in Cuba, China, and Russia.

Once the government has created a religious litmus test in order to run certain types of businesses, are they not discriminating on religious grounds?

Of course they are. But from their perspective, this is good discrimination necessary to prohibit bad discrimination.

In other words, “you shouldn’t be able to use your religion to hurt people, so I should be able to use the government to hurt you.”

In their mind, the harm associated with needing to find another florist is a greater harm than bankrupting a grandmother because of her beliefs about homosexuality.

In one sense we should be sympathetic. There’s an old saying that “hurt people, hurt people”. When you encounter someone who is genuinely interested in harming another person who offended them, they are inevitably acting out of a lot of real pain. The homosexual community is filled with people who have real stories of real pain because they have been legitimately wronged.

But that doesn’t justify their attempts to use political leverage to destroy the lives of good people in an act of general revenge.

There’s an important parallel to the Islamic Terrorists who shot the cartoonists in Paris. While so many on the left are insisting that Je Suis Charlie, in reality, the left in America has been playing the same game with (thankfully) different weapons for a long time.

Brendan Eich was fired as CEO of the company he started because of his beliefs about marriage. Private property owners have been fined because they do not want their private property used for a same-sex ceremony. Every time a TV personality expresses their commitment to the biblical understanding of marriage, protests organize to get them off the air.  Bakers, florists, and wedding photographers are facing lawsuits and fines because they prefer not to be part of same-sex ceremonies.

Without question, mass murder is orders of magnitude worse than the tactics the militant gay lobby has been using to make examples of the people who disagree with them.

But the root problem is the same.

A society cannot remain free if the people within the society seek the personal destruction of those who offend them.

The law exists to provide a remedy for real harms. But if we now believe that finding another florist after a polite conversation is an injury requiring the attention of our nation’s leadership we might as well drop any remaining pretense of adulthood and return to our pacifiers.

The essence of tolerance is the ability to disagree agreeably. Barronelle Stutzman has proven to be a model of how to do that. The other folks…not so much.

We have different stories, beliefs, and experiences. Each of us can learn something from our neighbors, especially our neighbors who are very different than us.

We all can agree that everyone should have the same opportunities in life regardless of what groups they are a part of. In that sense, we all oppose “discrimination”.  But if “discrimination” has now been redefined to have nothing to do with opportunities and everything to do with feelings, count me out.

I prefer the adult world.