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Yesterday, the State, Veterans, and Military Affairs Committee in the Colorado Senate voted 3-2 to pass Senate Bill 283, which will allow businesses and individuals to claim that any belief they hold — including religious beliefs — give them permission to exempt themselves from non-discrimination laws they don’t want to follow.

This is the sixth religious exemption bill introduced in Colorado in the past three years; however, this is the first time one has been introduced in the Colorado State Senate.

Before the hearing, a coalition of Colorado business owners, faith leaders, members of Colorado’s LGBT caucus, and community groups held a press conference opposing the bill at the Colorado State Capitol.

“Small businesses in Colorado can’t expect to compete with other states if we are not viewed as being open for business to all,”Jeremy Bronson, owner of Occasions Catering, said. “Colorado lawmakers wisely rejected similar legislation already this year, and in previous years, and I urge them to oppose the latest incarnation of this measure. Given that similar measures in North Carolina and Indiana spawned severe economic backlash that led to more than $450 million in combined losses for those states, it’s hard to understand the motivation for this latest proposal.”

“It would be a shame for republicans to push this bill that would undercut 150 years of making sure that our society — and our country — is one that is free and open to all and which protects the rights of every individual,”conservative attorney Mario Nicolais said. “Tomorrow will be Holy Thursday and the last teaching of Christ was to love one another. This bill would fundamentally underscore that value, and it would also underscore our values of promoting tolerance across our country.”

During the committee hearing on this legislation, opponents of the bill testified to how religious freedom is already protected by the First Amendment of the Constitution, highlighted the negative effects that similar bills have had in Indiana and North Carolina, and explained that passing Senate Bill 283 would send a message that Colorado isn’t open for business to everyone.

When Indiana passed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act in 2015, the state lost at least $60 million in revenue.

Daniel Ramos, the executive director of One Colorado, released this statement yesterday afternoon.

“Today, senate committee members heard from a range of business leaders, faith leaders, conservatives, and legal experts who have agreed, time and time again, that legislation like SB-283 would be bad for Colorado. As a nation, we decided a long time ago that businesses that are open to the public should be open to everyone on the same terms. Businesses shouldn’t be able to pick and choose who to serve based on their beliefs, religious or otherwise.
“We are extremely disappointed in the members of the committee who chose to support this legislation today, and hope that a majority of the state senate will see this bill for what it is — a broadly written attempt to allow any Colorado business to discriminate against ANY customer by claiming their personal beliefs, including religious beliefs, give them the right to do so.”