Most Small Business Owners In Colorado Oppose Laws That Use Religion To Trump LGBTQ Nondiscrimination Protections, New Poll Shows

For AU's Wall of Separation blog:

In this tense political climate, bad news sometimes overshadows the good news, and today’s news is good. 

A new opinion poll released yesterday by the Small Business Majority reveals that “65% of Colorado small business owners believe business owners should not be allowed to deny services to LGBT individuals based on the owner’s religious beliefs.”

In the past couple of years, numerous state legislatures passed or considered so-called “religious freedom” laws that could allow business owners to deny services to others—  particularly LGBTQ people— based their religious beliefs. These measures, including the notorious Indiana RFRA signed into law by vice president-elect Mike Pence in 2015, generated widespread backlash. Now this poll adds to the evidence: discrimination is bad for business.

Last year, Colorado considered but ultimately rejected the “Colorado Freedom of Conscience Protection Act” (HB 1180). The bill, an extreme version of the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act, would have created a potential religious exemption to every single existing and future state and local law in Colorado, including nondiscrimination protections. 

In a March letter to the Colorado House Committee on House State, Veterans, & Military Affairs, Americans United warned legislators of the consequences that would result if they passed the measure.  

“HB 1180 is incredibly broad and could allow individuals—and even for-profit corporations—to discriminate, deny women healthcare, and otherwise harm others in the name of religion,” AU’s State Legislative Counsel Amrita Singh wrote.

When HB 1180 failed in the House, its proponents unsuccessfully sought to place the issue on Colorado’s November ballot. The poll asked small business owners how they would have voted on such a ballot initiative: Sixty-one percent said they would oppose a ballot initiative that could allow discrimination in the name of religion, while 51 percent said they would “strongly” oppose such an initiative. Fifty-nine percent also said “an initiative like this would hurt the business climate in Colorado.”

This poll should send a message to the Colorado legislature that they shouldn’t even consider another “religious freedom” bill in their upcoming legislative session. As the Small Business Majority explained: “small business owners in Colorado oppose overly broad religious exemptions that could allow for anti-LGBT discrimination in the Centennial State.”

So do we. Religious freedom is a fundamental right that allows all of us the freedom to believe or not as we see fit, but it does not allow us to use religion as an excuse to harm or take away the rights of others. That is why Americans United, through our Protect Thy Neighbor project, fights against policies that would allow discrimination under the guise of religious freedom.  

Christopher Wing, owner of Silver Pick Lodge in Durango, might have said it best: “Using religious freedom to discriminate is a perversion of a noble concept, and laws that allow religion-based discrimination are not only harmful for small businesses, they are harmful to the local economy, the state of Colorado and America as a whole.”

Please join us to fight for real religious freedom and against religion-based discrimination. We know that under the Trump-Pence administration, we’ll face even more attempts to sanction this kind of discrimination, but we’ll be ready for the fight.

Follow Rokia Hassanein online at @rokiahass