People calling themselves part of "Team Arlene's" gathered Wednesday night at a Pasco church to voice their displeasure with what they see as an infringement of a Richland florist's personal and religious rights.
"This is not an issue about commerce," featured speaker Joseph Backholm told the crowd of around 70 people at Faith Assembly Christian Center. "This is an issue about conscious rights."
Backholm is executive director of the Family Policy Institute of Washington, a statewide organization that campaigns for religious freedom and parental rights issues. The institute organized Wednesday's meeting for citizens to show their support for Barronelle Stutzman.
Stutzman is being sued by state Attorney General Bob Ferguson and a gay Richland couple for discrimination. In March, Stutzman refused to sell Robert Ingersoll and Curt Freed flowers for their wedding, citing her religious beliefs. Ingersoll had been a customer of Stutzman's for nine years.
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Sitting on a chair under a beam of light at the church, Backholm told the assembled audience that Stutzman's religious rights and her rights as a business owner are being violated.
Stutzman was not discriminating against the couple because they are gay, Backholm said, just standing up for her belief that marriage only should be between a man and a woman.
"She was perfectly happy to provide services to gay people," he said. "Rather, she had a disagreement with an event. That event was the wedding."
The Family Policy Institute is founded around a Judeo-Christian perspective, and most members of the organization do not support same-sex marriage, Backholm said. The institute supports Stutzman because "every business owner should have the right to run their business in line with conscious rights."
"Would you force a Jewish deli to sell a pork sandwich?" Backholm asked the crowd.
The audience was a mix of church members and the community at large. They listened to Backholm and the institute's grassroots director, Danille Turissini, speak before breaking into smaller groups to share their opinions.
Several attendees declined to be interviewed by the Herald.
Dave Barr of Kennewick said he came to the meeting because he is concerned about individual rights being violated.
"It isn't the customer," Barr said. "(Stutzman's) not against them. She disagrees with a certain set of beliefs they hold. The state is making the issue about homosexuality. It's a personal choice."
Backholm said he supports the motives of Ingersoll and Freed, but thinks those motives are trumped by a citizen's religious and personal freedoms.
"They are trying to eliminate hate, bigotry and intolerance," he said of the couple.
The institute passed out cards with Ferguson's name on them and urged every one in attendance to call the attorney general to "kindly voice their opinion."
"If we make enough noise, things will change," Backholm said.