GOP Rep. JoAnn Windholz (center).
A press release from Coloradans for Freedom yesterday celebrates the death of House Bill 16-1180, a bill to allow individuals to claim an exemption from nondiscrimination and other laws due to “religious convictions.”
During the committee hearing, opponents of the bill testified that religious freedom is already protected in the First Amendment of the Constitution and that the proposed bill would open up a can of worms that could have unintended consequences–effectively sending a message that Colorado is not open for business to everyone.
Due to the sweeping nature of bills like HB-1180, which are ripe for abuse and have already led to lawsuits across the country at taxpayers’ expense, a number of community groups and individuals have spoken out against HB 1180.
Before the hearing, a coalition of Colorado business owners, faith leaders, and community groups held a press conference opposing HB 1180 at the Colorado State Capitol. Speakers included: Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Kelly Brough, local faith leader Reverend Doctor Louise Westfall, Executive Director of Voices for Children CASA Nia Wassink, former Republican Arapahoe County Commissioner and CEO of the South Metro Chamber of Commerce John Brackney, former Republican State legislators Al and Jean White, and Boulder County District Attorney Stan Garnett.
Boulder County DA Stan Garnett.
Boulder County DA Stan Garnett wrote an op-ed about the bill for the Boulder Daily Camera:
[T]here is a proposal making its way through the Colorado Legislature that would undermine our laws and allow people to claim their religion gives them permission to ignore laws they don’t like. If House Bill 1180 passes, it will create great uncertainty for law enforcement and prosecutors across the state. The way in which these proposed exemptions could undermine the rule of law are vast and unpredictable…
With such a statute in place, a man could obstruct law enforcement by claiming that certain domestic violence laws don’t apply to him because of his belief that a husband has the right to discipline his wife and children as he sees fit, a landlord who believes a man should be the head of household could refuse to rent an apartment to a single mother, and a police officer could refuse to defend a mosque or synagogue by saying it goes against her religious beliefs.
The debate over so-called “religious freedom restoration” laws has been a major flashpoint since well before the U.S. Supreme Court legalized marriage equality in a landmark decision last year, but that decision has pushed the religious right to introduce these bills with greater urgency. The ability to claim a religious exemption from discrimination law where it concerns LGBT citizens is tough to defend constitutionally all by itself, but the implications of the bill don’t stop there. This kind of legislation could subvert all kinds of other laws which are much less controversial, like child and spousal abuse.
Nia Wassink: In Alabama, which has broad religious exemption laws, child care centers who claim they are “religiously-based” are allowed to operate without licensure. One such facility was able to operate even after repeated claims and reports from parents about children being taped to chairs, locked in rooms for hours on end, and left in soiled diapers all day. Even though reports were made to child protective services and local law enforcement, these agencies were unable to intervene because of this law. A sergeant with the local police department who received these claims said, “the law is unfortunate. It does not protect the kids.”
These types of laws hamper the efforts of those trying to ensure that kids are safe.
Although HB-1180 was always going to die in the Democratic-controlled House, the large number of sponsors of the bill are a reminder that a broad range of really scary legislation is never more than one election away from passage right here in Colorado–as 2014 Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob Beauprez reminded voters that year when he proudly announced he believes IUDs are an “abortifacient.” The kind of legislation that apologist pundits and editorial boards tell voters is nothing to fear after Labor Day.
But these aren’t “zombie bills” to be ignored. They are a warning to be heeded.