Faith-based bill draws ire

  • January 28, 2008

Denver Daily News
By: Peter Marcus

State Rep. Alice Madden will redraft legislation that would prevent faith-based nonprofits from discriminating against employees that do not share similar religious beliefs. A protest of the proposed legislation, however, will continue as planned even though the legislation does not address faith-based programs and curriculums.

House Bill 1080 — as currently drafted – would prevent faith-based nonprofits that accept state funding from discriminating against current and prospective employees for religious reasons. The legislation would force compliance with state employment nondiscrimination laws and bring Colorado into compliance with federal law.

But Madden, D-Boulder, said she will redraft the legislation to please all stakeholders, including a coalition of religious groups that say the proposed legislation would put them out of business. The coalition, including Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput, believe faith-based nonprofit programs and curriculums would be affected by the legislation, forcing nonprofits to “choose between following religious tenets or submitting to government demands that they put aside their religious belief.”


Madden said the legislation would simply bring Colorado into compliance with already established employment laws and that actual programs would not be affected by the bill.

“House Bill 1080 is about making it clear that you can’t discriminate. It does not change the real world,” said Madden, adding that opponents are overreacting. “The archbishop is out there saying the world will end. I don’t think anyone will change their behavior one way or another. Frankly, that’s not what the amendment is meant to do.”

Madden admitted, however, that the language is unclear, which may be leading to confusion over the bill’s intent. She said she will redraft it so that all stakeholders are pleased and aware of what the purpose is.

Bruce DeBoskey, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League, pointed out that the bill would only restore Colorado to its original employment laws that have historically banned discrimination in all forms. An amendment last year changed those laws.

“All we’re trying to do is restore Colorado law to what it’s always been,” he said. “You can’t take government money to use to discriminate.”

He said it is odd that a coalition of religious organizations would oppose legislation that they have for decades had to follow.


Still, faith-based organizations plan to protest.

Jessica Langfeldt, spokeswoman for the Colorado Family Institute, said a protest of Madden’s legislation will still go on as planned at the Capitol on Wednesday. Opponents are concerned that the bill would prevent religious nonprofits and other organizations from continuing their faith-based programs or lose precious state funding that keeps many social service programs alive.

“The legislation in its present form would give less options to families because then schools and preschools like Handprints would have to make the choice of following their faith and convictions or release those at the expense of the legislature,” said Dr. Roland Dorenzo, president of Handprints Early Education Centers, Inc., in Colorado Springs. “Either way, the kids lose.”


Handprints operates early education centers in Colorado Springs as a division of the Colorado Springs Christian Schools. Dorenzo said religious-based nonprofits like his always disclose its faith-based programs before finalizing membership. He said people should have the option of choosing a faith-based or secular program.

“Those who have protected religious freedom and the First Amendment talk about choice more than a particular group or sect,” said Dorenzo. “I would like to see parents given more options. If we’re truly looking at developing a pluralistic community or society, then it stands to reason that more options and more choices are better than less.”

Sen. Jennifer Veiga, D-Denver, who is co-sponsoring the bill with Madden, said it is unlikely that even if the legislation were to restrict faith-based programs that many social service programs in the state would end. “There’s plenty of nonprofits who compete for the limited dollars we have to provide these kinds of services,” she said. “There’s plenty of nonprofits out there that will continue to provide those services as needed.”