Florist Attorney Wants Discrimination Case Moved To Federal Court
By Cathy Duchamp
The lawyer for a Richland, Washington florist being sued for refusing to provide flowers for a same-sex wedding says he hopes to move the lawsuit to federal court as a First Amendment case. Attorney Justin D. Bristol says the case is about freedom of speech and freedom of religion, not discrimination.
Bristol: "People understand that under the First Amendment the government cannot compel any of us to engage in any sort of religuos conduct. But what about whent the government is attempting to compel people to engage in conduct that is contrary to their religous beliefs? That, too is protected under the First Amendment, the government is not allowed to do that."
Bristol represents Barronelle Stutzman, owner of Arlene's Flowers. He says Stutzman does not discriminate against gays and lesbians but does have a religious objection to same-sex marriage. But Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson says Stutzman violated consumer protection law by refusing to provide flowers for customer Robert Ingersoll.
Ferguson: "My job is to enforce our state laws and our attorneys believe strongly that she is in violation of our state laws. You simply cannot discriminate against someone based on their sexual orientation. That's not allowed under our state laws. I hear her arguments, but I believe that a court will ultimately decide that those will not be sustained, that the state position will be sustained."
The ACLU of Washington says it’s representing customer Ingersoll and his partner. The group is asking that the shop to agree now to refuse service to customers based on sexual orientation. It also wants the florist to write a letter of apology to be published in the Tri-City Herald.