Thursday, November 02, 2006

Referendum I: Potential Club Against Religious Freedom

Catholic Bishop Michael Sheridan of Colorado Springs writes:
Colorado employment law now provides a cause of action against "employers" that "discharge . . . or refuse to hire a person solely on the basis that such employee or person is married or plans to marry another employee of the employer." The statute states that "spouses" can bring a claim for violation of this Act. Referendum I redefines "spouses" to include "domestic partners."

Now, while some employers will not care if one employee joins another in a domestic partnership, others do care ? deeply. Most church-related employers in Colorado, for example, teach that sexual activity should be limited to the marriage of one man and one woman. If Referendum I passes, it will jeopardize the freedom of religious communities, guaranteed by the First Amendment, to engage like-minded persons to advance a community?s religious beliefs and mission.

Some may argue that the problem is small because religious organizations are exempt from the definition of "employer" under the Colorado Spousal Discrimination Act. But church-related employers already know that this exemption will very likely be attacked and may be lost if they cooperate with government by providing faith-based social services supported by government funding. One potential and particularly devious effect of Referendum I will be to force religious organizations participating in charitable choice programs to surrender their freedom to hire only those workers who hold the same religious and moral convictions.

Though I appreciate the bishop's focus on the referendum, I have to ask what church employers are doing employing active homosexuals in the first place. Perhaps it is the same magnanimity which permits the employment of divorced and remarried people, but it is still an oddity.

Additionally, Bishop Sheridan's focus on the effects of the law uppon church-affiliated organizations, but neglects to mention the considerable impact upon lay Catholic employers who run putatively more secular businesses. Such laymen's freedoms are certainly imperiled as well, and they deserve a defense too.

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