Lawyers representing Richland flower shop owner want discrimination case tossed

By Ty Beaver, Tri-City HeraldMay 21, 2013 

Attorneys representing a Richland flower shop owner accused of discriminating against a gay couple want the case thrown out.

Alliance Defending Freedom, a nonprofit legal team that takes on freedom of religion issues, filed the response this week in Benton County Superior Court.

The American Civil Liberties Union filed the lawsuit against Barronelle Stutzman, owner of Arlene's Flowers, on behalf of Robert Ingersoll and Curt Freed. Stutzman also is facing legal action from the Washington Attorney General's Office for violating the state's anti-discrimination laws. The alliance also is fighting that allegation.

A spokesman for the alliance said in a news release Tuesday that the ACLU has no reason to force Stutzman to violate her religious beliefs to serve Ingersoll and Freed.

"Barronelle Stutzman's only desire is that she not be forced to violate her faith when it comes to her beliefs about marriage," said senior legal counsel Dale Schowengerdt. "Family business owners are constitutionally guaranteed the freedom to live and work according to their beliefs."

Ingersoll went to Arlene's Flowers in February to arrange for flowers for his and Freed's wedding.

Stutzman told him she could not because same-sex marriage is against her religious beliefs.

Ingersoll and Freed are seeking unspecified damages from Stutzman, but also are asking that she be forced to stop violating state law.

The alliance, however, said the case should be dismissed because Stutzman did not violate any laws.

"(Stutzman) did not discriminate in the provision of goods and services on the basis of any customer's sexual orientation," said the response. "Rather, (Stutzman) declined to provide goods and services for a particular type of event, based on a religious objection to participation in the event, and the subject matter thereof."

The lawsuit has not yet been assigned to a judge.

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