Colorado is considered one of America’s most liberal states, but it has recently suffered significant legal defeats after being sued by Christians. Courts have ruled in favour of a Christian web designer and a Catholic health clinic over the state’s anti-discrimination laws.
The Christian Post reports that now federal District Court Judge Daniel Domenico has supported a faith-based educational academy. He ruled it doesn’t have to hire non-believers or compromise its stance on Biblical ethics to qualify for state funding.
The privately-run Darren Patterson Christian Academy had been receiving funds under a universal pre-school program, but was recently denied an exemption because of its faith-based policies and beliefs. It is the only Christian school in its county that offers a pre-school, but it also teaches elementary and middle school students. It defines itself as a “Christ-oriented” institution and only hires Christian teachers.
Judge Domenico enforced an injunction so the academy could keep receiving state funds without changing its practices. He cleared the way for the Christian institution to sue the state while concluding it would probably win the case under First Amendment freedom of religion clauses.
Alliance Defending Freedom, the Christian legal group helping to represent the school, said: “The government cannot force religious schools to abandon their beliefs and exercise to participate in a public benefit program that everyone else can access.”
Earlier, the same judge ruled that Colorado cannot stop a pro-life Christian medical centre from offering a treatment aimed at reversing the effects of the abortion pill. Judge Domenico found that the law enacting the ban violated the US Constitution’s right to religious freedom. His order stopped the state from enforcing the ban against the Bella Health and Wellness Clinic which sued the state to overturn the law.
The clinic’s operators said they were “relieved and overjoyed” to be able to continue caring for women seeking help. They had been supplying a natural hormone called progesterone to reverse the effects of a drug used in medicated abortions. The Christian Post reports the officially unproven treatment has a nearly 70% success rate. Colorado was the first state to try to outlaw its use to reverse an abortion.
Mid-year, the US Supreme Court ruled against Colorado’s civil rights law. It found that a state cannot force a Christian website designer to create websites celebrating same sex weddings. In a 6-3 decision, the justices ruled that Lorie Smith of 303 Creative could not be compelled by Colorado’s law to make websites that go against her sincerely-held religious beliefs.
The majority justices wrote that “no public accommodations law is immune from the demands of the US Constitution” and expressed concern over the state’s attempt to control Ms. Smith’s speech. “Under Colorado’s logic, the government may compel anyone who speaks for pay on a given topic to accept all commissions on that same topic, no matter the underlying message, if the topic somehow implicates a customer’s statutorily protected trait. Equally, the government could force a male website designer married to another man to design websites for an organisation that advocates against same sex marriage. The First Amendment tolerates none of that,” they decided.
In 2016 Ms. Smith had challenged the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act, arguing that the law would force her to offer services that violated her sincerely held belief that marriage is a union between one man and one woman. She was forced to stop creating any wedding websites because of the Colorado law which is similar to those in roughly half of the 50 American states. The US Supreme Court agreed that law was in violation of her First Amendment rights, which could set a precedent allowing an exemption for religious businesses to refuse requests in relation to same sex weddings.
That decision could also impact on another high profile Colorado case. The state’s Supreme Court has agreed to hear the case of a Christian baker who declined to make a cake celebrating a gender transition. Jack Phillips has been fighting the discrimination claim for more than six years.
Under state law it’s illegal to refuse to provide services on protected charateristics such as race, religion, sexuality and gender. CBN News reports the key issue in Mr. Phillips’s case is whether forcing him to make a cake with a message he does not support, is a violation of his rights to free speech. The Colorado Court of Appeals has ruled it was not. The Supreme Court will reconsider that decision.
In an opinion piece for The Christian Post, senior counsel Jake Warner from Christian legal advocates Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) writes Mr. Phillips’ fate could hinge on the landmark decision in the Lorie Smith case which upheld free speech for all, blocking Colorado’s intent to compel the web designer to create custom websites celebrating views of marriage against her faith.