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Two Republican Religious Freedom Bills Fall In Committee

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Bente Birkeland
/
RMCR
Opponents of two religious liberty proposals rally at the state capitol prior to the hearing on Monday. They said the bills would hurt business and give people a license to discriminate in Colorado. Jessie Ulibarri (D-Westiminster) attended the rally.

Two Republican religious freedom bills drew strong opposition from gay rights groups, civil liberties organizations and members of the business community Monday. The first bill, known as House Bill 1171 [.pdf], would have forbade government officials from constraining the exercise of religion had it not been struck down in committee.

The second bill, House Bill 1161 [.pdf], would have protected people from facing penalties for refusing to violate their beliefs and was also defeated.

Supporters of 1171 said it would strike a sensible balance between religious beliefs and state interests. Opponents said the bill would give people a license to discriminate, using the religion card as carte blanche.

“You shouldn’t have to do things and say things that are against your conscience,” said Nicole Martin an attorney who testified in support of the measure in the House State Veterans and Military Affairs Committee.

Much of the debate centered on cake baker Jack Phillips from Lakewood. He refused to bake a wedding cake for a same-sex couple citing his religious beliefs.

“The state of Colorado has utterly ignored Mr. Phillips’ first amendment rights,” said Martin.

Opponents see things differently. Stephanie Donner, the chief legal counsel for Governor John Hickenlooper, said the bill is "legally and practically unnecessary and would create rather than prevent discrimination."

Business groups including the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce worried it would make it more difficult for Colorado to attract a diverse and talented workforce, and send the message that the state is not collaborative.

Representative Joe Salazar (D-Thornton) wondered where you draw the line.

"Do you draw a line where someone says I’m not going to allow Mexicans in my shop because most of them happen to be catholic and I’m a protestant? Do you draw the line where someone says I think all African-Americans should still be slaves because my religion says so?” Salazar said.

Representative Dan Thurlow (R-Grand Junction) joined Democrats to defeat the measure in the State, Veterans, & Military Affairs Committee. Three Republicans also voted with Democrats against House Bill 1161.

Bente Birkeland has been reporting on state legislative issues for KUNC and Rocky Mountain Community Radio since 2006. Originally, from Minnesota, Bente likes to hike and ski in her spare time. She keeps track of state politics throughout the year but is especially busy during the annual legislative session from January through early May.
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