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Business and Faith Groups Unite to Oppose "Right to Discriminate" Laws

PHOTO: Business, faith and community groups say legislation scheduled this week in a Colorado House committee would pave the way for businesses and individuals to discriminate against others who don't share their religious views. Photo credit: Hustvedt/Wikimedia Commons.
PHOTO: Business, faith and community groups say legislation scheduled this week in a Colorado House committee would pave the way for businesses and individuals to discriminate against others who don't share their religious views. Photo credit: Hustvedt/Wikimedia Commons.
February 23, 2015

DENVER – A coalition of Colorado business owners, faith leaders and community groups is urging lawmakers to oppose legislation the coalition says will legalize discrimination in the state.

House Bills 1161 and 1171 would allow individuals and businesses to refuse to follow any law that goes against their religious views.

Rev. Brian Rossbert, a Lutheran pastor, says the result could mean pharmacists in rural areas could refuse to fill prescriptions for birth control pills, or a high school guidance counselor could refuse to help a gay teenager, citing a conflict with their religious beliefs.

"When we seek to discriminate against people based on our claim to religious freedom, I think we're making a mistake," says Rossbert. "We're probably not living into the values of our faith, and not living into the teachings that we claim to hold."

Supporters of the bills say the legislation is a necessary step to restrict a government entity from substantially burdening a person's exercise of religion.

Rossbert says the First Amendment in the U.S. Constitution already protects freedom of religion.

Colorado business leaders who oppose the legislation say the bills are so broadly written that they could allow businesses to discriminate against customers for what some would see as trivial reasons, possibly leading to a wave of lawsuits at taxpayers' expense.

Rossbert maintains the legislation would be a backward move for Colorado.

"As a state, I think we've moved on from wanting to enshrine that sort of treatment of others in the laws we hold," he says.

Today's "snow day" for Colorado legislators means hearings for both bills before the State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee of the Colorado House of Representatives will be rescheduled.

Eric Galatas, Public News Service - CO