It is not every day that lawyers from the ACLU and Focus on the Family share a public stage to debate religious freedoms and workplace anti-discrimination laws. In recent years, tensions between employee anti-discrimination rights in the workplace and religious freedoms of employers have dramatically increased in magnitude and complexity. In the last decade, courts have significantly expanded the rights of religious employers. Additionally, religion-based discrimination charges filed with Equal Employment Opportunity Commission have more than doubled in the past fifteen years. And employees’ rights in the areas of sexual orientation and healthcare have been affected by employers claiming to be governed by faith-based principles.
“The Intersection of Religious Freedoms and Workplace Anti-Discrimination Laws,” which was part of a larger CLE in Colorado, Inc. program titled “Workplace Discrimination,” produced a lively and informative discussion. The presenters debated the tension between anti-discrimination laws including the Colorado Anti- Discrimination Act’s inclusion of sexual orientation as a protected class, and laws protecting religious employers’ rights including the Free Exercise Clause and Religious Freedom Restoration Act. As expected, the ACLU and Focus on the Family had divergent opinions on matters related to the contraceptive mandate issued by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and religious employer exemptions. The panelists also debated the holdings, reach, and implications of recent high-profile decisions spanning a variety of related topics including the cases of Hosanna-Tabor, Windsor, Hobby Lobby, Abercrombie & Fitch, Little Sisters of the Poor, and Masterpiece Cakeshop Lakewood Bakery. The presenters and moderator demonstrated extraordinary knowledge of these difficult constitutional law matters, as well as theological arguments, historical context, and pragmatic public policy consequences.
Panelists: Mark Silverstein, Esq., American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado, L. Martin Nussbaum, Esq., Lewis Roca Rothgerber LLP, and Bruce Hausknecht, Esq., Focus on the Family. Moderator: Scott L. Levin, Esq., Regional Director, Mountain States Region, Anti-Defamation League.