House Republicans this week tried again to convince Democrats to allow business owners to discriminate against customers who violate their religious views.
The Republican bill is modeled on the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which has been bolstered by evangelical Christians waging a dwindling crusade against “the homosexual lifestyle” and same-sex marriage.
The Colorado poster child for the bill has been Jack Phillips, owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop in Lakewood. In 2012, Phillips was asked to bake a wedding cake for a same-sex couple and refused, citing his religious views against homosexuality. The couple sued. The Colorado Civil Rights Commission ruled in their favor, as has the Colorado Court of Appeals. Phillips appealed to the state Supreme Court last October, which has not yet announced whether it would hear the case.
Given the measure’s assignment to the kill committee, the “Freedom of Conscience Protection Act” never really had a chance, and died on a party-line, 5-4 vote in the Democratic-controlled committee Wednesday.
And the defeat this time around had support from Gov. John Hickenlooper, who a year ago walked a fine line between criticizing Indiana for passing a similar bill and siding with LGBT advocates calling for a boycott of the Hoosier state.
The measure, House Bill 16-1180, changed little from its 2015 version, other than its sponsor, Rep. Stephen Humphrey of Severance, who this year carried the bill alone.
In 2015, Humphrey was a co-sponsor with Rep. Patrick Neville of Parker. The Senate sponsor, both last year and this year, was Neville’s dad, Sen. Tim Neville of Littleton, who is also a candidate for the GOP nod for U.S. Senate.
Last year, Indiana’s lawmakers passed a similar bill allowing people to discriminate based on their religious values. The Indiana law would allow businesses and individuals to use their religious beliefs as a defense in anti-discrimination lawsuits.
After a major outcry, including threats of economic retaliation, Gov. Mike Pence, who signed the law, pushed the legislature to fix it.
Denver Mayor Michael Hancock said last year he would ban city-approved travel to Indiana while the law was in effect.
Gov. John Hickenlooper didn’t specifically call for a similar ban but said in a statement that “showing your state is ‘open for business’ begins in part by demonstrating that your state has an open mind and an open heart, and promotes equal rights and equal opportunity for all.”
Once Pence signed the religious refusal fix into law, Hickenlooper, then chair of the National Governors’ Association, said he was satisfied and would not ban state travel to the Hoosier state.
This year, Hickenlooper came out firmly against the bill, through testimony from his chief legal counsel, Jackie Cooper-Melmed. She warned the committee the bill could have negative economic impacts, citing an estimated $60 million in lost economic revenues to Indiana and $4 billion in economic damage in Georgia, which is currently considering a similar bill.
“We support the need to protect free exercise of religion,” Melmed said. “But we believe in another right: Equal protection under the law.”
The state has worked hard to achieve economic success, she said, and the bill would hamper the state’s ability to attract new business, support tourism and hurt “Colorado’s reputation as a welcoming state.”
Photo credit: Dan DeLuca, Creative Commons, Flickr.