Catholic Culture News
Catholic Culture News

HB 1080: How to Write a Really Bad Bill

by Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. Cap.


In this editorial, Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver warns that a proposed law, HB 1080, may result in the end of many Catholic charitable organizations, specifically, Catholic Charities.

Larger Work

Denver Catholic Register

Publisher & Date

Archdiocese of Denver, January 23, 2008

The Colorado General Assembly handles a vast amount of work every year. Nearly all of it is principled and well-intended, and most of it serves the common good. But every session has a few truly bad bills. House Bill 1080 is near the top of this year’s list.

In its effect, HB 1080 would attack the religious identity of religious nonprofits serving the wider community. And since Catholic nonprofits play a major role in serving the needy through organizations like Catholic Charities — in fact, Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Denver is the largest non-government human services provider in the Rocky Mountain West — Catholics will bear a disproportionate part of the damage.

House Bill 1080 would greatly hinder any Catholic entity which receives state money from hiring or firing employees based on the religious beliefs of the Catholic Church. Many non-Catholics already work at Catholic Charities. But the key leadership positions in Catholic Charities obviously do require a practicing and faithful Catholic, and for very good reasons. Catholic Charities is exactly what the name implies: a service to the public offered by the Catholic community as part of the religious mission of the Catholic Church.

Catholic Charities has a long track record of helping people in need from any religious background or none at all. Catholic Charities does not proselytize its clients. That isn’t its purpose. But Catholic Charities has no interest at all in generic do-goodism; on the contrary, it’s an arm of Catholic social ministry. When it can no longer have the freedom it needs to be “Catholic,” it will end its services. This is not idle talk. I am very serious.

The argument that government money “supports religion” when it passes through groups like Catholic Charities is nonsense. It also assumes that partnerships to serve the common good between government and religious groups are somehow “unconstitutional” — an assumption that is completely alien to American history and flatly false in light of the Constitution. Catholic confirmation classes don’t swell with new recruits because of Catholic efforts at Samaritan House or the migrant and low-cost housing run by Catholic Charities. In fact, Catholic Charities — and similar religious groups — often lose money on government-funded projects, and government bodies know it.

The background to HB 1080 is troubling. During the 2007 Assembly session, Senate Bill 25 initially attempted to add sexual orientation and religion to a list of characteristics for which a person cannot be discriminated against in employment. The Colorado Catholic Conference, working with other religious groups, successfully lobbied for an amendment exempting groups like Catholic Charities on religious grounds. This made sense as a matter of justice. People who are willing to serve the public because of their religious faith should not then be forced to compromise or ignore that faith in their service. The amendment passed the House overwhelmingly on a vote of 60 to 2, with three members excused.

One of the persons supporting the religious exemption amendment was Rep. Alice Madden. But less than a year later, Rep. Madden is now sponsoring HB 1080. It might be worthwhile if Catholics contacted her office directly and asked her to explain the U-turn.

Groups like Catholic Charities do accept government funds, which they then pass through to the needy. In fact, one of the main reasons governments use nonprofits like Catholic Charities is because they’re cost-effective. As a result, government gets much more for its dollar by working through Catholic Charities to reach the poor. But administering the support personnel, ministries and distribution of funds does cost money, and a portion of government money is retained to help pay expenses, including in some cases salaries. This is necessary. It’s also fair and reasonable.

What I hope Catholics and the wider community clearly understand about HB 1080 is this: Catholic organizations like Catholic Charities are glad to partner with the government and eager to work cooperatively with anyone of good will. But not at the cost of their religious identity. Government certainly has the right and the power to develop its own delivery system for human services. But if groups like Catholic Charities carry part of society’s weight, then it’s only reasonable and just that they be allowed to be truly “Catholic” — or they cannot serve. And that has cost implications that the public might prudently consider in reflecting on HB 1080.

Finally and quite candidly, one of the Catholic community’s deepest concerns in regard to HB 1080 is the bill’s source. I’ve heard from quite a few Catholics over the past week; Catholics who find HB 1080 offensive, implicitly bigoted, and designed to bully religious groups out of the public square. But the Colorado Catholic Conference has also heard — repeatedly — that the Anti-Defamation League has been a primary force behind this bad bill. I hope that isn’t true. It would be a very serious disappointment. I invite and encourage the Anti-Defamation League to disassociate itself from this ill-conceived piece of legislation. And I strongly urge Catholics to contact their state representatives, urging them to vote against this bill.

Contact information for all members of the Colorado General Assembly can be found at:

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