News & Politics

Jared Polis's 'Profound Misunderstanding of Religious Freedom'

President Barack Obama joins Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo., in waving to supporters during campaign stop on the campus of Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colo., on Tuesday, Aug. 28, 2012. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

On Tuesday, Colorado elected its first openly homosexual governor, Jared Polis. While LGBT groups have celebrated Polis’s win, the governor-elect has expressed a view of religious freedom that should terrify Coloradans. Jeff Hunt, president of the Centennial Institute, the think tank for Colorado Christian University (CCU), expressed deep concern about Polis’s stance.

“We hope Governor-elect Polis will maintain his campaign promises to be a governor for all people and we want him to succeed in doing so,” Hunt told PJ Media on Friday. “We are, however, concerned about his recent discussion of religious liberty on Channel 9 NEXT. During his recent interview, he demonstrated a profound misunderstanding of religious freedom.”

In that interview, Polis insisted that Coloradans should “separate their own individual moral beliefs with what they believe in the public sphere. Because of course anybody in your own faith tradition, of course you can dictate what your own morality should be and judge it according to whatever principles that you feel are divinely inspired, but in the public sphere we all have to get along at the end of the day.”

Hunt shot back against the idea that religious freedom is a private concern that should not make its way into the public square. “There is no law, nor any Supreme Court decision, that upholds the idea that you must leave your religious beliefs at home when you enter the public square,” he declared.

“Religious freedom of all faiths is a fundamental human right, guaranteed in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and affirmed in the Colorado Constitution,” Hunt explained. “We hope Governor-elect Polis will uphold and maintain religious freedom for all Coloradans.”

Polis has given reason for hope, however. During a debate with Colorado Treasurer Walker Stapleton, Polis “condemned the unfair treatment of Jack Phillips by the Colorado Civil Rights Commission” in the case Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission (2018), the Centennial Institute president recalled.

“That indicates to us that he wants to treat people of faith fairly and that he wants all Coloradans to succeed,” Hunt added. “We hope he will govern accordingly.”

Sadly, Polis has not always expressed sympathy with Jack Phillips. The Supreme Court ruled that the commission treated Phillips with impermissible hostility to his religious faith. Indeed one commissioner even went so far as to compare Phillips’s decision not to bake a custom cake for a same-sex wedding to the horror of the Nazi regime.

Yet when the decision came down in June, Polis expressed disappointment.

“The decision by the Court is disappointing, but thankfully narrow in scope. Now is the time for Congress to answer definitively by adopting our bipartisan Equality Act into law. We can and must provide LGBTQ people with abundantly clear protections from discrimination in law,” the congressman declared.

This statement suggested that Jack Phillips’s decision not to bake the cake constituted “discrimination,” a false twisting of the facts. While the Commission ruled that Phillips had “discriminated” against the homosexual couple on the grounds of their sexual orientation, Phillips had gladly served LGBT people at his shop. He only refused to craft a specific message in his cake art. Phillips had the free speech and religious freedom to refuse to express a message with which he disagreed, namely that same-sex marriage is the same as marriage as defined in the Bible.

The Supreme Court did not rule on this fundamental issue, however. Instead, it found that the Commission had violated Phillips’ free exercise of religion by refusing to give him a fair hearing. The Commission discriminated against him on the basis of his religious beliefs.

Yet Polis, in his response to the Masterpiece Cakeshop ruling, acted as though the Court had undermined the “dignity” of the same-sex couple. “Nobody should have their dignity and basic rights put on trial, just as nobody should have to walk into a store and wonder if they will be denied service because of who they love,” Polis declared. In October 2017, he had sent a brief to the Supreme Court arguing that Phillips should lose his case.

Again, Phillips was not discriminating against LGBT people. He was refusing to offer his services and to express his artistic support for a specific event with which he disagreed. Polis, rightly concerned that LGBT may face discrimination, ignored the fact that discrimination was not happening in this case.

This is concerning, because Polis is an original cosponsor of the Equality Act, which would amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to prohibit discrimination on the basis of actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity in various settings, including public accommodation. The Colorado Civil Rights Commission applied such an idea over-broadly, and Polis has expressed his support for the extremely broad interpretation of “discrimination.”

This view puts religious business owners like Phillips at risk, and it could endanger more explicitly faith-based organizations, including universities like Colorado Christian University. Indeed, faith-based adoption agencies have already come under fire across the nation for refusing to place children with same-sex couples.

Phillips has recently come under fire again, this time for refusing to bake a cake celebrating transgender ideology. He believes the same lawyer who requested the transgender cake is behind requests for Satanist cakes — featuring a working sexual device.  The Colorado Civil Rights Commission again ruled that Phillips had discriminated against this lawyer, and he is suing in response.

Religious institutions should be allowed to operate according to their beliefs, and so should bakers like Jack Phillips. Polis has pledged to be a governor for all Coloradans, and that includes people of faith. He should make it clear that he does not consider religious freedom merely a defense for faith in private settings. Such an idea is utterly foreign to the Constitution and to America’s history, and it puts Polis’ own constituents at risk.

Follow the author of this article on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.