Lawmakers shoot down bill that could have allowed religious student groups state money

Lawmakers shoot down bill that could have allowed religious student groups state money

State lawmakers have narrowly killed a bill that would have freed up state money to religious student groups – even those demonstrating prejudice in picking their leaders.

The measure, House Bill 14-1048, would have prevented universities from enforcing non-discrimination requirements for religious groups seeking state funding and other resources available to student organizations. It was introduced in response to percieved discriminatory policies by universities nationwide against how religious groups are allowed to run.The bill was sponsored by Republican Rep. Kevin Priola and Democrat Sen. Lois Tochtrop. As Priola put it, the bill would have ensured religious student groups in Colorado universities could “thrive” and are “protected.”

As proposed, a public institution of higher education would have been unable to deny a “benefit otherwise available to another student group based solely on the religious student group’s requirement that its leaders adhere to the group’s sincerely held religious beliefs or standards of conduct.” In other words, if a religious group at CU-Boulder only permitted straight leaders, the bill would have allowed that group access to tax dollars.

Supporters who testified in favor of the bill argued that there was a national movement to choke the ability of religious student groups to determine their own leadership. They were concerned that university policies were driving certain religious organizations off campuses.

After a robust discussion, a majority of House Education Committee members weren’t convinced university discrimination against student religious groups is a problem in Colorado.

In a 4-year-old U.S. Supreme Court ruling, Christian Legal Society v. Martinez, the court affirmed that a public university is not in violation of the First Amendment if it enforces non-discriminatory policies for official student groups, even if those groups have religious affiliations. The American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado’s Executive Director Nathan Woodliff-Stanely argued before the House committee that the “bill essentially seeks to circumvent that ruling.”

“Students are free to believe what they wish, but discriminatory conduct does not have to be supported and recognized,” Woodliff-Stanely said. “Any mandates on group conduct should be to prevent discrimination, not to allow or promote it.”

Read Woodliff-Stanely’s entire statement on the ACLU website.

The committee voted to postpone the bill indefinitely.

[Image via monoglot]

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About the Author

Shelby Kinney-Lang

Has worked for media nonprofit Free Press and interned at The Nation. He studied at UMass Amherst and at Oxford. He's from Laramie, Wyoming.
skinneylang@coloradoindependent.com | @ShelbKL

1 Comment

  1. Bryan on said:

    This story is an affront to basic journalistic practices, not to mention ethics.

    The supporters of the bill were not seeking to “circumvent” the SCOTUS ruling. They were, in fact, asking they be allowed to elect leaders who actually believed and supported the values of their organization.

    One OPPONENT of the bill was even asked if it would be okay for a straight Baptist minister to be head of the CU-Boulder GLBT group. The student said, “Absolutely, so long as his values didn’t conflict.”

    How did anyone associated with publishing this story pass Intro to Journalism?

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