Religion still won’t be an excuse to discriminate in Colorado

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

has been a political journalist since 1998. She covered the state capitol for the Silver & Gold Record from 1998 to 2009 and for The Colorado Statesman in 2010-11 and 2013-14. Since 2010 she also has covered the General Assembly for newspapers in northeastern Colorado. She was recognized with awards from the Colorado Press Association for feature writing and informational graphics for her work with the Statesman in 2012.


  1. “Liberals” (LEFTISTS) think that Liberty=

    The “RIGHT” to FORCE other people to do things against their own voluntary free will.

    There is also nothing in the Constitution which says that a person can FORCE another person to enter into involuntary business agreements against their own free will.

    The word “discrimination” implies some sort of wrong doing…. when in fact the Constitution guarantees all people the right to freely “discriminate” for themselves as to which they wish to do, or not do.

    The modern Left feels ENTITLED to violate the freedoms, Liberty, and free will of anyone they disagree with.

    That’s not “Liberty”… it’s LEFTIST FASCISM.

    And basically the reason so many people are choosing to defect from the radical Left, and join the Libertarian Party… or vote Trump.

  2. Mr. King’s ignorance of Colorado law can be excused because the author of this article never mentioned it. Colorado has a public accommodation law, passed by its elected representatives. That law prohibits businesses from refusing service to customers based on their religion, race, ethnic background, and sexual orientation, among other criteria. Jack Phillips broke Colorado law in refusing service to a gay couple. I don’t know why Marianne Goodland failed to cite Colorado’s Public Accommodation law. I have noticed that right wing talking points never mention this law,but suggest that Phillips is being victimized by government fiat. The 14th Amendment to the US Constitution guarantees equal protection of the law to all citizens.

  3. Alright, republicans, pass your law. Then let me ask you this: When do you stop charging gays full price to live here? Because you’re FORCING second class citizenship on them, demanding full payment of all taxes and fees, but making sure they don’t get the full protection of law. Hardly sounds constitutional, does it?

    Stop calling this type of law anything to do with religious freedom. Call them what they are, BIGOTRY PROTECTION laws. Show me where in the constitution it says anything about being able to discriminate against others because of anyone’s religious beliefs. It’s not there any more than it is in the words of Christ, which you bigots keep trying to use as the excuse for your hate. Get over it, and just admit that you’re bigots. We’ll all be better off.

  4. A critical distinction is being missed here. Mr. Phillips and those sharing his religious convictions are not discriminating against anyone based on what said person(s) believe or their chosen lifestyle or sexual habits. I’m certain Mr. Phillips would gladly sell birthday cakes, graduation cakes, etc. to anyone, regardless of their sexual orientation. The point is Mr. Phillips is being asked to apply his artistic abilities to create cakes that explicitly celebrate behaviors in direct contradiction to his convictions. That’s quite a different matter. Would those displeased with Mr. Phillips also be equally displeased with a homosexual baker who refused to create a cake that read “Repeal Same Sex Marriage” or “Homosexual acts are sinful”?

  5. The entire purpose of passing generally applicable, religiously neutral laws, such as anti-discrimination laws, is to manage the harms we can all cause each other in a complicated society, especially when folks selfishly think their rights are near absolute but their duties to others minimal.

    To give an exemption to someone to violate a generally applicable, religiously neutral law is to give them permission to cause actual harm to someone. And if the reason for that permission is solely to help the religious person avoid the cognitive dissonance that their own free-willed choice of religious metaphorical outlook is causing them, then the government exemption has essentially violated the First Amendment rights of the person suffering the *actual* harm.

    Our secular government and system of laws has an obligation to manage actual harms, not theological harms. In theocracies, those priorities are reversed.

  6. Shredder –

    When Trump supporters, and members of the KKK, and white supremacists convince the Colorado legislature that they too should be a protected class under anti-discrimination law, then you might have a point.

    Write your representatives to request that Colorado’s anti-discrimination law to be amended to include ignorant, tub-thumping thugs.

    Let us know how that works out for you.

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