Religious liberty measure dies in committee

DENVER — Colorado won’t become the newest state to adopt a so-called religious freedom law.

That became clear Wednesday when the House State, Veterans & Military Affairs Committee for the third time in as many years rejected an attempt to get such a measure into state law.

The measure, HB1013, stipulated that the state could not compel “any action contrary to a person’s exercise of religion,” such as passing anti-discrimination laws that bar businesses from refusing service to same-sex couples.

Proponents of the measure, however, say that it’s not fair to force people to participate in activities — such as a same-sex wedding — when it violates their religious beliefs.

“What this bill would actually do is let people live according to their deepest convictions, no matter who they are,” said Theresa Sidebotham, a Denver attorney representing the Christian Legal Society. “How does that play out in a case of conflict, such as whether a baker or photographer has to participate in a gay wedding? If you let everyone live according to their deepest convictions, the gay couple can still get their wedding, but the individual artist should be free to follow his or her deepest convictions and not participate ... very much like the fashion designers who chose not to participate in the Trump inauguration.”

Sidebotham said the federal government has the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, approved unanimously by Congress and signed by Democratic President Bill Clinton in 1993, but the U.S. Supreme Court later ruled that the law does not apply to state or local governments.

That law, however, is not like the proposed bill nor laws passed by other states, Democrats on the committee said. Under it, the federal government can only use the least restrictive means against religious liberty to further a “compelling” government interest.

The bill failed on a 6-3 party-line vote.

Opponents of the measure said the bill isn’t about religion or religious belief, but about the right to discriminate.

The measure is similar to controversial new laws in Indiana and North Carolina that have led many organizations and companies to refuse to do business in those states while the law is in force.

“Religious freedom is important to us, that’s why it’s in the First Amendment,” said Rev. Amanda Henderson, executive director of the Interfaith Alliance of Colorado. “A bill like this is simply an excuse, a justification for discrimination. We won’t stand for that in Colorado.”


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