Critics say ‘First Freedom’ act could allow businesses to refuse services to some

SEATTLE — Last spring, Barronelle Stutzman, a florist in the Tri-Cities, found herself in hot water when she refused to work with a gay couple who were planning to marry, which led to a consumer protection lawsuit from the state’s attorney general. Now, a bill is being introduced that some say may allow future business owners to refuse to serve someone based on their religious beliefs.

The Law and Justice Committee is hearing about the First Freedom Preservation Act, sponsored by Sen. Mike Padden of Spokane. Padden insists his proposal is more about allowing religious events on public property.

“We have a situation down in Olympia where someone wanted to baptize their baby on the capital campus,” Padden said. “They allow weddings there, but they wouldn’t allow this (baptism) there.”

But the wording in the bill also seems to offer protections to business owners, saying the state should not “burden” a person’s right to practice their religion. That burden is defined as having “the effect of coercing any action contrary to a person’s exercise of religion.”

“This gives a right to violate a state law if one can think it’s based on religion,” Sen. Adam Kline of Seattle of said. Kline believes the bill was created specifically in response to the Stutzman case.

Padden said if the bill goes forward there will be plenty of time to debate it during public hearings. He hopes those discussions lead to more religious freedoms.

“I just think religious liberty is so fundamental, it’s the first item in our First Amendment to the Constitution,” he said.

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