Specter of ‘Bigotry’ in Nonprofits Bill Debate Rocky Mountain News

  • January 25, 2008

This article originally ran in the Rocky Mountain News.

By: Jean Torkelson

A bill that addresses employment discrimination has set loose the B word – bigotry – in a clash this week between Archbishop Charles Chaput and Bruce DeBoskey, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League.

In his newspaper column published Wednesday, Chaput urges Catholic voters to protest HB 1080 as an attack on religious freedom – one that could even lead to the shutting down of Catholic Charities, “the largest, non-government human services provider in the Rocky Mountain West.”

The bill would remove an exemption allowing nonprofits that accept public money to continue to set hiring restrictions based on religious teachings.

“I’ve heard from quite a few Catholics over the past week, Catholics who find HB 1080 offensive, implicitly bigoted and designed to bully religious groups out of the public square,” Chaput wrote in the Denver Catholic Register.

DeBoskey said that the ADL helped draft the bill. He fired off a letter to the Register Thursday, protesting the “implied criticism that ADL supports this bill because of some anti-Catholic or anti-religious bigotry.”

DeBoskey said the the bill “prevents religious bigotry in government funded programs. If you take government money, you’re acting as an agent of government and shouldn’t be allowed to discriminate.”

Last year, the legislature made it illegal to discriminate in hiring based on sexual orientation or religion, but an amendment exempted religious organizations and nonprofits. HB 1080 would scrap the amendment.

DeBoskey argues that nonprofits that accept public money have always had to abide by whatever discrimination laws were on the books. Therefore, he said, HB 1080 merely returns the law to what it was before the 2007 amendment was added.

But Jenny Kraska, chief lawyer and lobbyist for the Colorado Catholic Conference, disputed DeBoskey’s interpretation. “It’s true that prior to last year we had to abide by the discrimination policies of the state, but (before then) religion was never included on the list,” Kraska said.

Kraska said the conference is helping to develop a coalition of religious nonprofits, including non-Catholic groups, to fight HB 1080. Already on board is Colorado Family Action, which is associated with Focus on the Family in Colorado Springs.