Last year, conservative talk-radio hosts in Colorado wrapped their loving arms around a baker for discriminating against a gay couple by refusing to bake them a wedding cake.
The baker said his cake-selling preferences flowed from his religious views, but, as a judge nicely articulated, it was actually factually illegal discrimination based on sexual orientation.
Radio hosts, like KNUS' Peter Boyles, did live broadcasts from the cake shop. Hot bigotry was served to anyone listening, and the baker was fined by the great State of Colorado.
Now Colorado Republicans are proposing a law, like they did last year, allowing student clubs to violate campus anti-discrimination policies and still receive university benefits (funds, facilities, etc.). Sponsors include Tim Neville and Laura Woods on the State Senate side, and son Patrick Neville and Stephen Humphrey on the House side.
Similar legislation, allowing raw discrimination against women, gays, or potentially any of us, is under consideration across the country. One, for example, could allow restaurants to refuse service to LGBT people. Or pharmacists to stop filling prescriptions for birth-control pills. Another would permit adoption agencies to reject potential same-sex parents.
Collectively, these proposed laws are referred to as religious-freedom-restoration acts, but a more accurate name is discrimination-restoration legislation. Political observers expect Colorado Republicans to introduce broader discrimination restoration bills this session, beyond the narrow university-focused proposal currently on the table.
Colorado Attorney General John Suthers was on the radio last month, urging listeners, who were upset about the bigoted baker, to push their legislators to enact bills that allow discrimination under the guise of religious freedom.
Suthers: I think what's different, Jimmy, and 1964 and the time of the Civil Rights cases is, if a black person when into a restaurant in the South in 1963 and was refused service, he couldn't walk into a restaurant next door and get service, for the most part. Everybody was refused service. That's not the atmosphere we have today. We have this guy, who as a matter of his religious beliefs, would prefer not to do that. We have plenty of guys down the street who are perfectly willing to do it. I just don't think it's the same atmosphere. I think the legislature ought to be sensitive to that fact. But the Colorado legislature, with the majority at certain points in time, has not been.
I asked Denise Maes, Public Policy Director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado, which brought the initial complaint against the baker who refused service to the gay people, to respond to Suthers' comment:
Maes: The Attorney General is arguing that one should be able to break the law and discriminate because others "down the street" aren't or won't. He misses the entire point and ignores the damage done both to the people who are discriminated against and the business community at large. No one wants to live or do business in a state where discrimination is the law of the land.
Suthers himself agrees that, as of now, the law of land forbids the cake-baker-type of discrimination. That's why, as AG, he pursued a case against the baker, Suthers said on the radio.
Below, Suthers explains how he sees Colorado law now. It's a nice articulation of the way things stand. The problem is, Suthers wants to toss this out the window.
Suthers: We have a law in Colorado, our Public accommodations law. And a couple years ago when Democrats were in charge of both houses, they inserted sexual orientation along with race and gender as protective classes. And so in Colorado, essentially, sexual orientation has essentially the same protection as race in terms of anti-public discrimination laws.
So, if you have a business, whether it be a motel business, restaurant business, cake shop, and hold yourself out to the public, you must abide by this public accommodations law. And in this case, it was alleged, that a gay couple who'd been married in another state, wanted to have a celebration in Colorado, went into this cake shop, were very frank with the owner about what they wanted to do, and he refused to bake them a cake, despite the fact that they could have walked a blocked and got the cake at another bake store....it does appear this individual violated the public accommodations law, so the case was brought..."
Sengenberger: "We're talking about First Amendment freedom of religion, and if gay activities are in violation of that, and they want to run their business in accordance with their religious views, do they not have legal protection?"
Suthers: "Only if the practice is part of the practice of religion. Therein lies the problem, Jimmy. The reason why I think the state is going to win this case throughout is that baking cakes is not the exercise of religion. If you told the Catholic Church they had to marry gay couples, then you're violating the First Amendment. It's complicated, and there is a long line of cases about it, but sadly enough, I think the State is going to win this case."
Suthers nails it, doesn't he? The only problem is, he actually wants to make baking cakes a religious activity! And not just baking but everything. Taking photos of a wedding, issuing marriage licences, counseling gay students. Suthers wants religion to be everywhere and in everything, allowing discrimination against anyone anywhere. That may sound extreme, but the potential is seriously there.
It's what discrimination restoration bills, like the one proposed here in Colorado, would do.
LISTEN TO SUTHERS ON KNUS' JIMMY SENGENBERGER SHOW, AIRED DEC. 20, 2014. (@ 1:36:00)