Focus on the Family and the Alliance Defense Fund are apparently organizing to again pursue a constitutional amendment in Colorado that would give religious groups free reign to discriminate against LGBT people and control what kind of health benefits women have access to. The so-called “Religious Freedom Amendment” asserts that a “sincerely held religious belief” cannot be “burdened” by the government:
(1) The right to act or refuse to act in a manner motivated by a sincerely held religious belief may not be burdened unless the government proves it has a compelling governmental interest in infringing the specific act or refusal to act and has used the least restrictive means to further that interest.
(2) A burden includes indirect burdens such a [sic] as withholding of one or more benefits, assessing one or more penalties, exclusion from one of [sic] more government programs, and/or exclusion from one or more government facility [sic].
Aside from the offense of writing numerous typos into the Colorado constitution, the amendment not-so-subtly demands that religious groups have more power over citizens than the government by essentially giving them veto power over all policy decisions. This language could easily be construed such that the government would be permanently tethered to subsidizing religious groups, no matter how exclusive the policies of that group would be.
For example, after civil unions legislation passed in Illinois last year, the state decided to stop subsidizing Catholic Charities’ adoption services with taxpayer funding because the agencies refused to serve same-sex couples. Were this amendment to pass in Colorado, the state could never back out of such funding if organizations claimed their discrimination was based on a “sincerely held religious belief.” (Incidentally, even though Colorado’s proposed civil unions law actually would create a religious exception, Catholic Charities announced they would nevertheless shut down all services if the bill passes.)
One Colorado, the state’s LGBT advocacy organization, has put out a call to action to oppose the amendment, highlighting its many consequences for all Coloradans:
Imagine a law that allows a pharmacist to refuse to fill a birth control prescription. A law that permits an employer to refuse to hire people on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity and expression. A law that gives protection to teachers who refuse to teach sex education or evolution. All for the sake of so-called religious freedom.
Conservatives failed to place a similar amendment on the ballot in 2010. Ideally, this proposal will meet the same fate.