Religious Bill of Rights unfair to any religion but Dave Schultheis's, says Rabbi Steven Foster

Earlier this week, the state legislature spent many long hours hashing over Senator/Shmuck emeritus Dave Schultheis's latest brainstorm: a "Religious Bill of Rights."

As Education News Colorado noted, the measure would have allowed "high school students and parents of younger students to opt out of classes for religious reasons, permitted teachers to opt out of teaching material that conflicted with their sensibilities and made school board members and employees personally liable in lawsuits over the bill of rights." Read it here.

Testifying against the measure was Rabbi Steven Foster, who doesn't mince words when it comes to sketching out his objections. "There's nothing good in it from a Jewish or minority-religious perspective," he says. "The bill doesn't take into account that it ought to be protecting minorities, not putting minorities in a strange position."

Among the things that troubled Foster about Schultheis's proposal:

"Number one, he short-lined the bill right before he testified, so nobody had a chance to look at it. In other words, instead of putting forth the bill as he originally intended, with all these specifics about the bill of rights, he wanted to send it to the Attorney General for comments about what the legal ramifications of it were and how it could be implemented. That convinces me it had nothing to do with his real agenda."

Moreover, "from a Jewish perspective, it's not a good idea," he continues. "This is not a Christian country. It's a country made up mostly of Christians, but it's a secular country. When I said that, [Schultheis] objected, and so did many of his colleagues as well. They would like to see this established as a Christian country -- there's no question about that in my mind. But it's a secular country."

In the end, Foster notes, the judiciary committee to which the measure was presented "PI-ed it" -- meaning it postponed indefinitely future debate, effectively killing it. But that doesn't mean Foster is resting easy.

"I worry about where the right wing is headed with all this," he says. "They would like prayer in public schools, nativity scenes, and if teachers want to teach the Bible to them, they'd like to let them do that -- and that's not a very good thing for us.

"This is nothing new -- they've been donig this kind of thing for years," Foster maintains. "One of his other bills is an anti-abortion bill that tries to define human life starting at conception. And that's all very nice, but my religion doesn't teach that. Most religions don't teach that. So this is all part of the same piece for them. We like the wall of separation between church and state to be very high."

As opposed to nonexistent.

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts