Colorado Rights Blog

ACLU of Colorado By: ACLU of Colorado 2.27.2014

Religious Liberty Does Not Mean Freedom to Discriminate

It’s really quite simple.  Religious liberty means the freedom to believe what you believe, to state or even argue your beliefs in public if you wish, to gather in religious community, to worship as you choose, and to live your own personal life according to your religious faith or perspective.  Religious liberty does not and cannot mean the freedom to violate the rights or freedoms of others, to discriminate or violate public accommodation laws when serving the public, or to impose your religious practices and restrictions on employees, students or customers who may not share your religion.

Fortunately, the Governor of Arizona just vetoed a noxious bill that would have allowed many kinds of public discrimination in the name of religious freedom.  Unfortunately, the idea that religious freedom should allow discrimination and override public accommodation laws has been popping up in many places, including here in Colorado.  The ACLU of Colorado recently won summary judgment against a bakery that refused to make a cake for a same-sex couple in violation of long-standing public accommodation laws.  These laws are essential for equal protection in public commerce, preventing a chaotic breakdown of civility in a society with many different religious beliefs and personal biases.

The ACLU of Colorado upholds true religious liberty for all people and First Amendment principles of both free exercise of religion and non-establishment of religion in the public sphere.  If a bakery or other retail outlet refused to serve someone because of their religious beliefs, including the beliefs of any Christian tradition, we would fight that discrimination, too.  Ironically, the bill just vetoed in Arizona might have allowed exactly that kind of discrimination to occur.  It will be essential to remain vigilant against attempts to justify acts of discrimination against LGBT persons or anyone else in the name of religious liberty.



  • Anthony Martinez is 84-years-old and suffering from renal failure, as well as other serious medical conditions including dementia. He is currently incarcerated in the Sterling Correctional Facility, site of one of Colorado’s largest COVID-19 outbreaks with almost 600 active COVID-19 cases. He and his family are understandably terrified that he will catch the virus and die.

    In the midst of this public health crisis, incarcerated people as vulnerable as Anthony, could and should be immediately released to safely live out their remaining years with family.

    Read more about Anthony Martinez and other at-risk incarcerated people. 

  • Ronald Johnson is pre-diabetic, suffers from asthma and high blood pressure, and regularly uses an inhaler to breathe. His age and respiratory ailments put him at risk of serious illness and death if he contracts COVID-19. With over hundreds of active cases in Colorado’s prisons, his family fears he will not make it out alive. His daughter, Amber, says, “In prison, he can’t protect himself and he can’t social distance. My deep fear is that my dad will die in prison. That is an awful, traumatic reality to consider. My chest is tight just thinking about how quickly it spreads and how vulnerable he is.”

    Governor Hickenlooper shortened his sentence following testimony from family, friends and correctional officers advocating for his early release. Yet, he is still eight years away from parole. While he remains in prison, COVID-19 continues to spread. Ronald’s three siblings, four children and four grandchildren are desperate for his release.

    Read more about Ronald Johnson and other at-risk incarcerated people.

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