Hospital Bill Stokes Religious Freedom Debate

March 2, 2012

DENVER, CO – A bill to require hospitals to post public notice of what services are not provided because of religious beliefs or moral convictions passed the Senate – but not without sparking a furious debate. Republican senators said the measure violates freedom of religion and speech – and interferes with free enterprise.

Senate Bill 93 is “about discrimination and religious persecution because it not only tells an institution what you have to do – it orders the institution to say why,” declared Senate Majority Leader Bill Cadman. “And it’s only if you have a religious belief or moral conviction. If that’s not discrimination, what is?”

Cadman said the bill is another assault on faith-affiliated institutions in the wake of President Barack Obama’s decision to force religious-affiliated employers to provide free birth control and sterilization to their employees. The Obama administration recently revised the policy to allow these employees to obtain contraception from health insurers.

“If one faith is under attack in this country, all faiths are under attack,” declared Cadman of Colorado Springs.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Morgan Carroll (D-Aurora) and Rep. Crisanta Duran (D-Denver), would impact faith-based health care institutions that do not provide reproductive medical services such as abortions, vasectomies, tubal ligations and the morning-after pill for rape victims. The measure requires public disclosure of why these services are not provided and referral to other medical facilities that to offer them.

“This is a very narrow slice, an ideologically chosen slice – and then it’s sold as a bill to make more health care information available,” said Sen. Shawn Mitchell (R-Broomfield). “This bill is an aggressive step in the culture war.”

“I do see this (bill) as revolving around the issue of life and the defense of that. I am a strong advocate for defending the unborn. I consider abortion to be a barbaric act,” said Sen. Kevin Lundberg (R-Berthoud). “This goes beyond that.”

I’m not here just arguing my religious perspective. I’m here arguing for the freedom of all because this is a harassment of those institutions that have chosen to take a stand because of moral convictions based on religious beliefs,” said Lundberg.

He said the bill overtly violates the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.

“This basically identifies what services are not going to be provided,” said Carroll said. “It’s simply about transparency.”

She said hospitals have religious freedom and the right to determine what services they want to provide or not provide, and posting notice of that upholds the First Amendment rights of people.

Faith-based hospitals may have policies that conflict with reproductive health care choices of women and HIV treatment and protection services sought by gay men, said Carroll. In addition, same sex couples may not be allowed to visit their partners who are hospitalized.

“I understand this is controversial – I’m not pretending it isn’t controversial,” said Carroll. “What is so wrong with putting this information out there? It is not harassment; it’s about disclosing the truth.”

“We’re talking about specifically going after a religious institution and telling them what they have to do,” declared Sen. Ted Harvey (R-Highlands Ranch). He predicted the bill will be subject to “lawsuit after lawsuit” if they don’t comply with the government’s order.

“When I hear words up here this morning – chilling, torturing words – I kind of recoil,” said Sen. Joyce Foster (D-Denver) of the comments made by Republican senators. “I love the practice of religion, the freedom of religion.”

“On my desk I found a letter from one denomination telling us that they do not appreciate this particular bill. That is their fundamental right,” said Foster “But, I don’t believe that it’s up to one denomination in this entire country to tell me what I can’t know or what I can’t choose.”

Citing the persecution of Jews during the Spanish Inquisition in 1492 and the Holocaust, Foster implied that arguments against the bill had deteriorated into a war of words that threatened religious freedom.

“I don’t want my religion impugned, said Foster, who is married to Rabbi Steven Foster.

Sen.Keith King (R-Colorado Springs) said the bill interferes with the free market. He mused that the next step would be a mandate for Christian bookstores to post a notice that they don’t sell pornography, but refer consumers to other stores that do.

“Where have we required a business to say if I don’t have a product or service to say here’s where you can buy it,” asked King.

“This is about restricting religious liberties,” said Lundberg, who warned that if the bill becomes a law, it could lead to government regulating churches.

“The idea that stores would have to provide such information is not relevant,” said Betty Boyd (D-Lakewood). She added that hospitals, including those that receive government funding, are already expected to provide information to the public.

“Senator Carroll said this is about balance. Balance of what?” asked Sen. Steve King (R-Grand Junction). “This is about government telling business and citizens what to do. Where does this stop?”

“This has broader, bigger ramifications,” said King. “How far does government go in telling you what you have to do? Will other businesses have to put up signage? Walmart will need to put up a sign that says what products they don’t carry. Well, that might be a one-page notice.”

The bill passed Wednesday on a split party vote in the Senate; however, the measure is expected to die in a Republican-dominated House committee.

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