A Pasco councilman has renewed efforts to have the city take a stand on protecting religious freedom, in light of the ongoing legal action involving a Richland floral shop.
Councilman Bob Hoffmann’s proposed resolution was timed to coincide with Tuesday’s arguments in the Arlene’s Flowers case before the state Supreme Court.
Barronelle Stutzman, owner of the Lee Boulevard business, was found to have violated the state’s anti-discrimination law and the Consumer Protection Act when she refused to arrange flowers for a gay couple’s wedding.
She appealed that decision to the state’s highest court.
Never miss a local story.
A half-dozen people spoke against Hoffman’s resolution Monday night — the eve of the appellate arguments — warning that Pasco would be labeled a discriminating city and could see a loss in current or future businesses.
Two speakers were in favor of the resolution, saying business owners should have the freedom to exercise religion outside their home and church.
Hoffmann first tried to convince his fellow council members in July 2015 to ask state Attorney General Bob Ferguson to stop further action against Stutzman. The board rejected that proposal.
Hoffmann again broached the issue Nov. 7, and had hoped to get a vote at Monday’s meeting.
However, City Attorney Leland Kerr said they must wait until Nov. 21 because the resolution was not on Monday’s agenda or advertised to the public.
The delay is giving Tri-Citians time to organize, both in support of Hoffmann’s resolution and against it.
A Facebook event, “No hate, Pasco won’t discriminate,” is calling for a show of solidarity.
“Separation of church and state is under attack in Pasco, and anti-discrimination laws that protect LGBT people, women, religious and nonreligious minorities, people of color, and others are at stake, as is our reputation as a community where people and businesses want to be,” the page states.
City staff spent the past week writing up the resolution as suggested by Hoffmann.
If passed, it says the council declares support for “the constitutional rights of the citizens of the city of Pasco and state of Washington in the right to believe and practice their religious beliefs, and urges governmental agencies to be protective of these fundamental rights.”
The resolution notes that religious rights may come into conflict with other asserted rights at times and need to be balanced, and that “such conflict exists in the case of the state of Washington vs. Arlene’s Flowers.
A second section of the resolution would have stated that Pasco supports Arlene’s Flowers in its defense before the state Supreme Court.
Council members agreed not to include that version, but they were split on the overall proposal.
City Manager Dave Zabell noted that in his two years with Pasco, the council has “largely avoided taking positions on societal issues outside municipal government.”
Council members are free to support or endorse an issue in their private lives, but when the council does it as a body, it may initiate more requests and could send an unintended message, Zabell said.
Mayor Pro-Tem Rebecca Francik said it was timely to discuss the resolution after spending 1 1/2 hours going through the preliminary budget for 2017.
What most residents talk to Francik about is having their streets swept and parks cleaned, so weighing in on a case before the Supreme Court would go beyond the scope of the council’s job and be a big mistake, she said.
“This has nothing to do with the City Council’s business,” Francik repeated several times, saying the resolution would polarize Pasco.
“We are trying to grow business in this community, and what kind of a message are we sending out there that we’re only open for certain people?” she added. “That is not the message I want to send to the citizens of Pasco. … Our businesses serve everyone equally.”
Councilman Al Yenney said he thinks the government and businesses need to stay out of peoples’ religious lives. He called the resolution off-base, and said Pasco could end up seeing services pulled away from the community.
Councilman Saul Martinez views the resolution as an “opportunity to let our businesses know in the city of Pasco that we would be supportive of them in their freedom and in their right to do what they feel is the right thing to do.”
Kerr, the city attorney, pointed out that the Supreme Court justices cannot consider anything other than law or the facts of the case.
So, if the council approves the resolution, it would be expressing support for the position but would have no effect on the outcome of the court’s ultimate decision, he said.
READ THE RESOLUTION
Read Hoffmann’s proposed resolution at bit.ly/hoffmann-resolution