12:56 am - Thursday September 21, 2017

Passage of Civil Unions – without meaningful conscience protections for Coloradans

Statement from The Most Reverend Michael J. Sheridan and

Catholic Charities of Central Colorado

 

The Most Reverend Michael J. Sheridan, Bishop of the Diocese of Colorado Springs and Catholic Charities of Central Colorado lament the passage of a civil unions bill by the Colorado General Assembly, Senate Bill 11, that lacks any meaningful conscience protections for Coloradans.  In passing this version of the bill, our Colorado General Assembly struck a serious blow against religious freedom.  It has now created the real probability that a bill advanced in the name of equality and tolerance will be used as a tool for anti-religious discrimination against others, including faith-based adoption agencies.  Similar legislation without conscience protections has already been used to attack religious institutions and people of faith in other states.

The First Amendment to the United States Constitution establishes religious freedom as our first, most cherished right. The Colorado Constitution also upholds this principle, ensuring the rights of Coloradans to practice their religious beliefs. In rejecting conscience protections, our government seeks to determine where religiously-affiliated organizations may carry out their charitable work.  It has begun to construct an untenable framework that permits the state to determine that faith, for some, may only be lived within the four walls of a church.  The General Assembly has said, in essence, that many Coloradans with sincerely held religious beliefs are unfit to be in the marketplace and public square even though their faith requires them to be active there.  Some legislators have said as much explicitly. Primary bill sponsor Senator Pat Steadman, speaking of organizations like those who seek to operate their charitable ministries in accord with their beliefs on traditional marriage (beliefs which comport with the definition of marriage in our state Constitution), said: “So, what to say to those who claim that religion requires them to discriminate? I’ll tell you what I’d say. Get thee to a nunnery and live there then. Go live a monastic life away from modern society, away from the people you can’t see as equal to yourself.” This message is outrageous and demonstrates a deep intolerance of the religious beliefs of many Coloradans.

The Catholic Church has very publicly served those most in need, including children, for 2000 years. It has done so without regard to race, creed or sex. The Church’s very identity, and Catholic Charities’ identity by extension, is bound up in its charitable work.  This work is as important to the life of the faithful as the sacraments and proclamation of the Gospel.  The Church’s charitable work has continued throughout the centuries, even when such service was punishable by death at various times in history.  When undertaking this work, the Church and its related entities are engaged in ministry, not mere business.

The Colorado General Assembly has done a great disservice to children in need by rejecting religious freedom protections.  Inexplicably, most of the legislators who support Senate Bill 11 also supported conscience protections last year, but have refused to do so this year. The government has now set the stage to disregard the desires of many birth parents, as well as the voices of so many adoptive parents who seek to work with an agency that shares its religious beliefs in this very personal decision. The General Assembly’s actions will also likely plunge Colorado, a state with significant diversity of belief, into years of unnecessary litigation to force our leaders to uphold the principles that our state and federal Constitutions so clearly seek to protect.

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