Religious groups feel bullied by proposal – A lawmaker says she’s willing to discuss the bill dealing with employment discrimination

  • January 29, 2008

The Denver Post
By: Electa Draper

State Rep. Alice Madden said a flawed draft of a bill, meant to repair a 2007 statute dealing with employment discrimination, has given her a little taste of hellfire.

The Catholic Archdiocese of Denver and Focus on the Family have attacked Madden’s draft, which would prevent faith-based organizations that accept government funds from hiring people of a particular religion to carry out their charitable missions.

Archbishop Charles Chaput said the bill appeared to be an attempt “to bully religious groups out of the public square.”

Madden, a Boulder Democrat, said she is still working on the draft and is willing to discuss it with faith-based groups.

“This is not meant to change real-world behavior one iota,” Madden said. “We are trying to make it clear that employers generally should not discriminate on the basis of religion. Clearly, there could be exceptions.”

The legislation, House Bill 1080, with backing from the Mountain States Regional Anti-Defamation League, attempts to restore “a cornerstone of the separation of church and state,” said the league’s director, Bruce DeBoskey.

Madden, a Catholic, said that she is not a religious bigot, as accused by Catholic officials.

She joked that her class ring from the private Catholic school she attended in St. Louis “has been glowing” in the rhetorical heat.

“The work that Catholic charities does is wonderful,” DeBoskey said. “No one is critical of what these faith-based organizations are doing.”

Focus on the Family and its subsidiary, the Colorado Family Institute, declined to comment Tuesday. They said they would save their remarks for a news conference scheduled for noon today at the Capitol.

The coalition of religious groups will ask Gov. Bill Ritter to veto the bill if it’s passed by the legislature.

Catholic Charities, the single largest private provider of social services in the Rocky Mountain region, makes most hires without regard to the employees’ religions, said Chris Rose, president of Catholic Charities of Denver.

Chaput, however, has said he reserves the right to fill the charity’s top two posts with Catholics.

“We are going to be very active in asserting our right to serve the common good without compromising our Catholic identity,” Rose said.

Chaput wrote in the Denver Catholic Register that Catholic Charities often loses money on government-funded projects but that the organization accepts the funds to pass them to the needy, of which it serves about 250,000 a year.

They do so more cost-effectively than government agencies could manage without this partnership, he said.

“Catholic Charities has no interest in generic do-goodism,” Chaput said. “On the contrary, it’s an arm of Catholic social ministry.”

Electa Draper: 303-954-1276 or