A proposed Colorado law restricting religious exemptions from anti-discrimination laws could threaten the Catholic character of charitable organizations that receive government funds. The Colorado Catholic Conference has heard from numerous sources pointing to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) as being connected to the legislation.
The bill is so restrictive that it would forbid preferring Catholics for appointment to key leadership positions in Catholic non-profit organizations. The local archbishop has even advised the public that he will have to end Catholic Charities’ involvement with government programs if the bill passes.
The summary of Colorado legislature’s House Bill 1080(HB 1080) says that the bill “limits the applicability of the exception from compliance with employment nondiscrimination laws for religious corporations, associations, educational institutions, or societies when employing persons to provide services that are funded with government funds.”
The bill itself is short, taking up only twenty three lines. It amends the present blanket religious exemption by requiring every religious corporation, association, educational institution, or society that “accepts government funds to provide services” to comply with anti-discrimination laws. As listed in the Colorado Revised Statutes, characteristics protected by the anti-discrimination regulations include “disability, race, creed, color, sex, sexual orientation, religion, age, national origin, or ancestry.”
Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Denver, criticized HB 1080 in a January 23rd column titled “How to write a really bad bill.” He said the proposed law would attack the religious identity of non-profits and compromise Catholic organizations that co-operate with government agencies in providing necessary social services.
Because of the disproportionately large involvement of Catholic non-profits in the community, Archbishop Chaput said, “Catholics will bear a disproportionate part of the damage.” Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Denver, the archbishop notes, is the largest non-governmental human services provider in the Rocky Mountain West.
HB 1080, the archbishop believes, would hinder Catholic non-profits from hiring or firing employees based on the religious beliefs of the Catholic Church. Though recognizing that many non-Catholics work at Catholic Charities, Archbishop Chaput said the bill would remove the ability of the non-profit to maintain a Catholic leadership.
“…the key leadership positions in Catholic Charities obviously do require a practicing and faithful Catholic, and for very good reasons. Catholic Charities is exactly what the name implies: a service to the public offered by the Catholic community as part of the religious mission of the Catholic Church,” the archbishop wrote.
The need to preserve Catholic Charities’ Christian identity was so important that the archbishop warned that the non-profit’s cooperation with the government would cease if regulations impeded its Catholic mission. Speaking of Catholic Charities, he wrote, “When it can no longer have the freedom it needs to be ‘Catholic,’ it will end its services. This is not idle talk. I am very serious.”
The archbishop also said he has heard from Catholics who find HB 1080 “offensive, implicitly bigoted, and designed to bully religious groups out of the public square.” He also voiced concern about the origins of the legislation, saying that the Colorado Catholic Conference has repeatedly heard that the Anti-Defamation League has been a leading advocate for the bill. Though hoping that allegation was not accurate, Archbishop Chaput encouraged the Anti-Defamation League to distance itself from the bill if it was involved.
The ADL was most recently on the Catholic radar for their fierce opposition to Mel Gibson’s film “The Passion of the Christ,” which they claimed would fuel anti-Semitism.
Urging citizens to write their legislators, Archbishop Chaput summarized his concerns, saying, “Catholic organizations like Catholic Charities are glad to partner with the government and eager to work cooperatively with anyone of good will. But not at the cost of their religious identity.”