About 200 people packed city hall on Monday night as Pasco council members weighed a resolution to preserve the rights of people “to believe and live by their most deeply held convictions.”
The religious freedom resolution — proposed earlier this month by Councilman Bob Hoffmann — was rejected by a majority of the council. On a vote of 5 to 2, the council decided not to further consider the issue.
The decision came after a 35-minute discussion by council members and City Manager Dave Zabell. Councilmen Hoffmann and Tom Larsen wanted the council to take up the issue.
The public would have been allowed to speak if the council agreed to consider the measure.
Most of the people at the meeting appeared to support the decision, applauding after the vote. About 130 were inside the council chambers, with another 50 watching on a TV in the hallway.
Some, wearing purple ribbons and rainbow-colored leis, said before the meeting that the resolution would be condoning bigotry, tarnishing the city’s reputation and deterring businesses from setting up shop.
Others said business owners like Barronelle Stutzman with Arlene’s Flowers shouldn’t have to violate their moral conscience when asked to provide a service that goes against their religious beliefs.
Hoffmann called Stutzman a Good Samaritan who’s getting railroaded and she should never have to surrender her personal convictions.
Councilman Saul Martinez got emotional after telling the audience that he spent days contemplating, praying, researching and discussing the proposal with his constituents.
Martinez, who was in favor of the resolution on Nov. 14, said he was taught that freedom of religion is a constitutional right.
However, he said, since society at this point isn't ready to honor personal convictions, he would vote against considering the resolution because he doesn't want to see divisions in the community.
Hoffmann timed his proposal with state Supreme Court arguments in the case of the Richland floral shop and its owner, who denied service to a gay couple planning their wedding because it was against her beliefs as a Southern Baptist.
The resolution referred to the ongoing legal action with Arlene’s Flowers and said government agencies need to protect a person’s fundamental rights and give “substantial deference” to the U.S. Constitution when there is a conflict.
Stutzman’s lawyer argued last week to the state’s high court that arranging flowers is artistic expression protected under the First Amendment.
Stutzman, who believes marriage should only be between a man and a woman, would have been OK with selling prearranged flowers out of the cooler because those weren’t made specifically to celebrate the same-sex union.
Both Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson and the couple, Robert Ingersoll and Curt Freed, sued Stutzman in 2013.
A Benton County Superior Court judge ruled in 2015 that Stutzman’s refusal violated state anti-discrimination and consumer protection laws. She is appealing that decision in the Supreme Court.
This isn’t the first time Hoffmann proposed a resolution relating to Arlene’s Flowers. In July 2015, he was unsuccessful in getting his fellow council members to submit a request to Ferguson to stop further action against Stutzman.
This time, Martinez and Chi Flores indicated at the Nov. 14 meeting that they may be in favor of the resolution because it shows support for Pasco business owners and their individual rights.
Flores was appointed to the council last month to fill a vacancy. He said Monday that he heard from many in the community who did not want him to support the resolution.
In opposition, members Al Yenney and Rebecca Francik said government and businesses should stay out of peoples’ religious lives, and noted that they would be sending the wrong message to Pasco citizens with the resolution’s passage.
Kennewick Councilman John Trumbo attended the meeting in support of Hoffmann. It’s unclear if he plans to proposed a similar measure in Kennewick.
READ THE RESOLUTION
Read Hoffmann’s proposed resolution at bit.ly/hoffmann-resolution