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City Councilman Explains Why He’s Standing up for Arlene’s Flowers

This post was written by Pasco Councilman Robert Hoffman. Hoffman has introduced a resolution in support of religious freedom and opposition to the lawsuit brought by Attorney General Bob Ferguson against Arlene’s Flowers. His editorial was published in the Tri-Cities Herald on August 1, 2015.

From my perspective on the city council, here are some observations relating to points raised in the July 14 editorial, “Supporting Arlene’s goes beyond city duties.” It said that Pasco’s Resolution that I proposed is not something to take on the Washington Attorney General about because it is divisive, distracting and goes beyond council duties; this is a national debate, cities should leave well enough alone.

The Sunday, July 19 Tri-City Herald front page article cited a poll finding that 59% of people surveyed think wedding-related businesses should be allowed to refuse service to same-sex couples. Arlene’s Flowers has wide popular support in eastern Washington and the Tri Cities. These are some of the people I represent whose voice should not be ignored while her case is being heard in our courts.

True enough, the case is not about infrastructure, budgets, and zoning changes. Not all council decisions are. And some are contentious. In Pasco we have debated allowing a wet T-shirt contest at the boat races (declined), artwork in city hall, and the Liberty theater, adult bookstore, and prostitution in the downtown back in the 80’s. More recently, Planned Parenthood, pit bulls, fluoride, marijuana ,and e-cigarettes have had a place on the agenda. Other city councils have considered ordinances to set a minimum wage, provide clean needles to drug users, or prohibit gambling. Under the mayor’s leadership and with help from city staff, the Pasco City Council has worked through these various issues, reached a decision, and moved on.

The issue is national, but with a distinct local application. Arlene’s Flowers had a store in Pasco, and the owner had many years involvement with the city. The lawsuit by the state and ACLU had its origins in the Tri Cities.

We can’t just leave well enough alone because we now have faith based businesses in our communities at risk of prosecution if they exercise their freedom. If they follow their conscience and decline wedding-related business activities, the community is the loser because there will be less competition, and higher prices. Historically, people of faith have been good business leaders who understand how to manage risk, capital, and customer desires in the marketplace.

Is the best approach to appeal to the Attorney General? Maybe not. A better way may be towards the legislature to apply the State Constitution Article I, Section 11 on absolute freedom of conscience, into the RCW.

As a council member in Pasco, I have advocated for businesses in Pasco, sometimes to the frustration of council and staff. It’s my duty come along side people caught in the wheels of government, even those with issues some think are outside the box.

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