The Capitol Record

Bill would allow businesses to refuse services based on religious beliefs

Sen. Sharon Brown

Republican Sen. Sharon Brown of Kennewick has introduced a new bill allowing businesses to refuse service to customers due to their religious beliefs, drawing sharp criticism from some Senate Democrats.

Senate Bill 5927 would protect the “right of an individual or entity to deny services” if providing those services is contrary to their “sincerely held religious beliefs, philosophical beliefs, or matters of conscience.”

Last month, a florist in Richland refused to provide provide flowers for the same-sex wedding of Robert Ingersoll and Curt Freed. The florist, Barronelle Stutzman, now faces legal action from both the state attorney general’s office and the American Civil Liberties Union for declining to provide flowers.

Stutzman has maintained that her refusal was because of her religious beliefs. Her attorney has said that Stutzman’s actions are protected by constitutional right to freedom of speech, association and religious exercise.

Ten Republicans have signed on as co-sponsors of the legislation. The proposal drew a strong rebuke this week from Senate Democrats.

Sen. Kevin Ranker (D – Orcas Island) called the bill a “license to hate” in a press release issued Friday. And Senate Democratic leader Ed Murray said, in a press release of his own, that the bill is an attempt to “undo basic civil rights protections.”

“The whole notion that a business should have the right to discriminate against it’s customers is abhorrent,” Murray said.

There are only two days left in regular session, which ends Sunday. But Brown said in a press release that the measure could be considered during a special session or in the 2014 session.

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