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COLUMN: Colorado law discriminates against Christians' rights

By: Scott Weiser
August 22, 2017 Updated: August 22, 2017 at 4:15 am
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It's interesting that Fort Morgan's Cargill meat packing plant is in trouble with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission for discriminating against 130 mostly Somali Muslim workers by "requiring them to choose between their religion and their work." Last year the Colorado Department of Labor for the same reason forced Cargill to pay more than $1 million in unemployment to the workers who were fired for walking off the job.

Workers had complained that Cargill suddenly changed its policy regarding Muslim prayer breaks in 2015. National Public Radio reported in 2016, "Nobody was ever told that prayer was abolished. Or that prayer could not be accommodated," says Mike Martin, a Cargill spokesman. "There are times, specific times, when because of staffing levels an individual request for prayer may not be granted at a specific time on a specific day."

The Denver Post reported in 2011 that "Fort Morgan plant manager Nicole Johnson-Hoffman said management seeks solutions to prayer requests and complaints on a case-by-case basis. She said Cargill created safe places to pray with two reflection rooms - oversized cubicles with separate spaces for men and women with prayer rugs replacing the cardboard boxes workers were using."

Compare and contrast this example of state-sponsored suppression of religious accommodation currently in play when it comes to Christians who do not wish to participate in or lend their creative skills to gay weddings.

While Somali Muslims can apparently stop a production line and take a break to pray whenever they feel like it and be protected by federal and state law, Masterpiece Cake Shop owner Jack Phillips was pilloried by the state because his religion forbade him to use his artistic skills to create a special wedding cake for two gay men.

In a letter to The Denver Post last year Phillips wrote "I'll sell anyone any cake I've got. But I won't design a cake that promotes something that conflicts with the Bible's teachings. And that rule applies to far more than cakes celebrating same-sex marriages. I also won't use my talents to celebrate Halloween, anti-American or anti-family themes, atheism, racism, or indecency."

The ACLU reports, "The Colorado Civil Rights Commission's order affirmed previous determinations that Masterpiece's refusal to sell Mullins and Craig a wedding cake constituted discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in violation of Colorado law. The Commission also ordered Masterpiece Cakeshop to change its company policies, provide 'comprehensive staff training' regarding public accommodations discrimination, and provide quarterly reports for the next two years regarding steps it has taken to come into compliance and whether it has turned away any prospective customers."

So not only was Phillips denied his religious liberty, he and his employees have been sent off for political reeducation by the state. As a result, Phillips has lost 40 percent of his income because he can no longer make any wedding cakes for anyone.

Kasey Suffredini, acting CEO and president of strategy at Freedom for All Americans, a gay-rights group, says, "All of us cherish the American promise of religious freedom as protected under the U.S. Constitution, but that doesn't give anyone the right to discriminate against others."

Suffredini is wrong. The First and Fourteenth Amendments protect the individual right to discriminate against anyone for any reason whatsoever. Where that line becomes blurred is when state anti-discrimination laws regulating commerce bump up against individual First Amendment religious freedom interests. That's why the United States Supreme Court is taking up Phillips' case.

As we see from the Cargill case reasonable accommodation of Muslim religious belief is required. But there is no reasonable accommodation of Jack Phillips' religious belief in Colorado's anti-discrimination law. That might mean that Colorado's law is unconstitutional.

If Cargill decides to switch from beef to pork can the EEOC or the Colorado Department of Labor say it cannot do so because Muslim employees are religiously forbidden from handling pork? Can Cargill be sued for requiring Muslims to process pork or lose their jobs? Would Cargill's plant be closed for discriminating against Muslims? That wouldn't be a reasonable thing to do.

Why then can Jack Phillips be required to choose between his religion and his work because his religious belief forbids him from custom-making wedding cakes for gays?

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