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A Clash of Values 

A Washington Supreme Court case pits the state's anti-discrimination law against religious beliefs; plus, the Spokane City Council on sick leave

click to enlarge An ongoing Washington case pitting a florist's faith and her decision to not do flowers for a same-sex wedding is heading to the state Supreme Court.
  • An ongoing Washington case pitting a florist's faith and her decision to not do flowers for a same-sex wedding is heading to the state Supreme Court.

THE FLORIST AND HER FAITH

The Washington State Supreme Court will decide whether a small-town florist can be punished for refusing to provide arrangements for a same-sex couple's wedding based on religious beliefs.

In 2013, Barronelle Stutzman, the owner of Arlene's Flowers in Richland, told a longtime friend and customer that she could not do the flowers for his wedding because of her religious beliefs. Robert Ingersoll and his now-husband, Curt Freed, with the help of the ACLU of Washington, sued under the state's ANTI-DISCRIMINATION LAW, which prohibits businesses from discriminating based on race, creed, national origin and sexual orientation. Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson also filed a lawsuit under the Consumer Protection Act.

A Benton County Superior Court judge ruled in 2015 that Stutzman had violated state law and ordered her to pay the couple $1,000 in damages, and $1 in attorneys' fees to the AG's Office.

Multiple briefs in support of both sides have been filed leading up to the case being argued in front of the state Supreme Court. Oral arguments began Tuesday.

"I'm not asking for anything that our Constitution hasn't promised me — and you: the right to create freely, and to live out my faith without fear of government punishment or interference," Stutzman writes recently in a Spokesman-Review editorial.

"We were very disappointed to be denied service by Arlene's Flowers after doing business with them for so many years," Ingersoll and Freed say in a statement. "Planning our wedding should have been a joyful time in our lives, but instead we were hurt and saddened by being rejected for who we are."

Meanwhile, a similar case in Oregon is getting some attention again after state Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian, a Democrat, was defeated by Republican Dennis Richardson in the race for Secretary of State. The result marks the first time in 14 years that a Republican beat a Democrat for statewide office in Oregon. Avakian gained national attention for imposing a hefty fine on a small bakery in Gresham that refused to make a cake for a lesbian wedding. The owners reportedly paid $135,000 in fines and had to close the business. (MITCH RYALS)

SICK-LEAVE MOVES

The Spokane City Council knew it was coming. The day after councilmembers had approved their months-long process of compromising and negotiating over a mandatory sick-leave policy for many private businesses within the city of Spokane, Raise Up Washington began its campaign for Initiative 1433, hiking the minimum wage and putting in place a mandatory statewide SICK-LEAVE POLICY.

Now, I-1433's victory statewide has set Spokane on an unusual path: Starting in January of 2017, employers with 10 or more employees will be required to let their employees earn at least five days of paid safe and sick leave a year, while businesses with fewer than 10 employees would be required to let them earn at least three days a year. Construction, seasonal and temporary workers would be exempted. Employees would earn at least one hour of sick leave for every 40 hours worked, and the city of Spokane would enforce the policy.

On Monday night, the city council passed a sunset clause that keeps the city of Spokane's ordinance from conflicting with the new state law put into place by I-1433; that system will only be in place until 2018, when the entire thing will be discarded for a different set of rules: Employers will be required to offer their workers seven days of sick leave a year. No exceptions, no exemptions. Yet the requirements will be less stringent in an another area, requiring sick-leave hours to be handed out at a rate of only one hour for every 30 worked.

Several businesses complained to the city council, claiming that they would have to go through the work of implementing an entirely new sick-leave policy twice. But activists and others also spoke up, pleading with the council not to delay the sick-leave mandate another year.

City Council President Ben Stuckart agreed with them, dismissing concerns that implementation would burden businesses.

"I've heard the refrain for the last two years that this city council is business-unfriendly and we're hurting everything," Stuckart says. "[But] our economy, our median income and our employment growth have outpaced everywhere in the region." (DANIEL WALTERS)

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