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Rev. Brian Rossbert on Why He's Against Religious Right to Discriminate Bills

Today at the State Capitol, Colorado faith leaders, as well as local business owners and community organizers, will appear at a press conference in opposition to two pieces of legislation they see as religious right-to-discriminate bills.

We previewed one of them — House Bill 15-1161 — last month in a post about legislation worrying the LGBTQ community.

The other proposal — House Bill 15-1171 — raises similar concerns.

And both were co-sponsored by Gordon Klingenschmitt, Colorado's most controversial representative. Among his recent pronouncements: Because of their lifestyle, gays have lost their souls.


Reverend Brian Rossbert of Denver's House For All Sinners and Saints church (a Lutheran congregation), will be speaking at today's event.

"When I look at this legislation," he says, "I'm really troubled by the way I think it would be a step back for Colorado."

Both the bills have been publicly tied to the case against Masterpiece Cakeshop owner Jack Phillips. Back in 2012, as we've reported, Phililps refused to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple, Charlie Craig and Dave Mullins, because he disagreed with such a union for religious reasons.

Craig and Mullins subsequently filed a complaint against the shop, and last year, Colorado's Civil Rights Commission found that Phillips had discriminated against the couple.

HB 15-1161 and HB 15-1171 attempt to address this issue by stating that individuals cannot be forced to take part in speech or actions that violate their personal religious beliefs. Here's an excerpt from the former...
The bill specifies that neither the civil rights division, the civil rights commission, nor a court with jurisdiction to hear civil actions brought under the public accommodations laws may compel involuntary speech or acts of involuntary artistic expression or involuntary religious expression by a person when such speech or acts of artistic or religious expression would lead to that person directly or indirectly participating in, directly or indirectly supporting, or endorsing or impliedly endorsing an ideology, ceremony, creed, behavior, or practice with which the person does not agree.
...and the latter:
Specifies that no state action may burden a person's exercise of religion, even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability, unless it is demonstrated that applying the burden to a person's exercise of religion is essential to further a compelling governmental interest and the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest;

Provides a claim or defense to a person whose exercise of religion is burdened by state action; and

Specifies that nothing in the bill creates any rights by an employee against an employer unless the employer is a government employer.
What's Rossbert's take?

"In the past, there have been times when discrimination was enshrined in the laws of our country," he says, "and I think that's what these bills are trying to do — enshrine discrimination into the Colorado revised statutes, by allowing discrimination based on what an individual holds as a religious belief. That opens the door to a lot of bad behavior, I think."

One of the problems, from Rossbert's perspective, is the broad language in each bill. He offers the following examples of how far they might be taken.

"A police officer could say, 'I have a sincerely held religious belief that Muslims are antithetical to my way of understanding the world religiously — and so I'm not going to protect this mosque if there's a threat.' Or a counselor might say, 'I'm not going to serve this gay teen, because my perspective, based on my religious upbringing, is that homosexuality is a sin.'

"These bills would allow for a lot of unintended consequences," he adds.

Rossbert also sees a religious reason why legislation intended to protect religious beliefs actually undermines them.

"Jesus talked about loving God with everything we've got, but he also wanted us to love our neighbors as ourselves," he notes. "And these pieces of legislation really violate that second part."

The press conference takes place at 12:30 p.m. today in the west foyer of the State Capitol.Joining Rossbert at the speakers' podium will be former deputy district attorney Michael Carrigan, business owners Keo Frazier and Andrew Feinstein and representatives from women's health organizations and other community representatives.

Here are the two bills.

House Bill 15-1161

HB 15-1171


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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