Background: Last year, SB 07-025 was amended on 3rd Reading to clarify that religious organizations are generally permitted to discriminate in employment on religious grounds. The amendment did not, however, continue Colorado’s historical commitment to ensuring that government funds not be used for religious discrimination. HB 08-1080 is intended to reestablish that commitment.
Why HB 1080 is needed: H.B. 1080 starts with a simple premise: taxpayer funds should not be used for religious discrimination. When the government is funding a program, there should not be a religious test in hiring people to deliver that program, whether those services are being delivered by a religious organization or a secular one. Just as the government itself should not discriminate in hiring by preferring a particular classification of employees, any organization accepting a government grant should not use those funds to discriminate in hiring. H.B. 1080 will guarantee that if a religious organization accepts a government grant, it cannot use those funds to discriminate against job applicants from other religions.
Of course, a religious organization should be able – as it always has been able – to limit its hiring in most circumstances. Certainly, a church can hire Sunday school teachers who share its faith, and a synagogue can demand that its Rabbi be Jewish. But when a religious organization chooses to accept government funds to provide government-sponsored social programs – e.g., job training or drug counseling – it must recognize that accepting that money carries other publicly focused obligations.
A government grant to religious organizations to provide social services – often called a “faith-based initiative” – already carries restrictions on what the religious entity can do with the money. The grantee must serve the public, regardless of religion. The funds cannot be used for religious purposes, and the program cannot require any client to submit to any religious activity whatsoever.
H.B. 1080 will clarify that the government funds also cannot be used to discriminate in hiring. Essentially, H.B. 1080 will restore Colorado law to its pre-2007 state. In 2007, the General Assembly added a new section to the employment discrimination law, exempting religious organizations from the law, “notwithstanding any other provision of law.” C.R.S. 24-34-402(c)(6).
The new provision, however, conflicts with a preexisting section of the law, C.R.S. 24-34-402(c)(7), which provides that religious organizations are exempt from the employment discrimination laws “except for any religious organization or association that is supported in whole or in part by money raised by taxation or public borrowing.” In other words, until 2007, Colorado law recognized that government funds could not be used to discriminate in hiring.
H.B. 1080 would restore that principle, and clarify that the paragraph added in 2007 does not apply when a religious organization is acting as an arm of the government by accepting a government grant to provide social services.
HB 1080 should not affect charitable activities operated by religious organizations, which operated within the parameters of HB 08-1080 prior to the passage of SB 07-025. H.B. 1080 is not intended to affect the provision of any services, provided by religious organizations or their affiliates. It is also not intended to restrict the ability of religious organizations to prefer hiring their co-religionists for jobs that do not use government funds. It merely states that when a religious organization chooses to accept funds to provide publicly available social services, it must act in a nondiscriminatory way, just as the government does.