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Lamborn wants Justice Dept. to investigate Colo. civil rights agency

Author: Marianne Goodland - August 30, 2018 - Updated: August 30, 2018

Lamborn civil rightsIn this 2013 file photo, Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colo., speaks at the Christians United for Israel Washington Summit in Washington. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak, File)

U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn on Thursday called on the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate the Colorado Civil Rights Commission for what he calls its “anti-religious” bias in its dealings with Masterpiece Cakeshop baker Jack Phillips of Lakewood.

The Colorado Springs Republican accused state civil rights officials of “an attempt to discredit (Phillips’) religious beliefs and destroy his business” in a pair of cases targeting the baker, both of which sparked ire among religious conservatives.

In the earlier case, Phillips refused in 2012 to make a custom wedding cake for two gay men, Charlie Craig and David Mullins. The state Civil Rights Commission determined that Phillips’ refusal violated anti-discrimination laws. The Colorado Court of Appeals upheld the determination; the state Supreme Court declined to hear the case.

> RELATED: Jack Phillips, Masterpiece Cakeshop in another dispute over alleged discrimination

But the U.S. Supreme Court on June 4 issued a 7-2 ruling that said the “Civil Rights Commission’s consideration of this case was inconsistent with the state’s obligation of religious neutrality.” The narrowly crafted decision stopped short of a sweeping declaration about whether there’s a right to discriminate based on religious beliefs, and focused on how the commission conducted itself in dealing with Phillips.

A second complaint came from Autumn Scardina. In June 2017 — on the same day, Lamborn said, that the Supreme Court agreed had hear the case involving Craig and Mullins — Scardina, an  attorney, called Phillips’ bakery to ask that it create a custom birthday cake that celebrated both her birthday and the fifth anniversary of a gender transition. The bakery refused, citing religious beliefs.

In a June 28, 2018, decision, the Colorado Division of Civil Rights, which enforces the state’s anti-discrimination laws, found that the cakeshop had discriminated against Scardina, based on the state’s public accommodation law, which says that a retailer must serve everyone, regardless of sexual orientation, religion, race and a host of other protected characteristics.

> RELATED: Supreme Court sides with Colorado baker on same-sex wedding cake

Phillips and his attorneys from Alliance Defending Freedom have sued the commission and the division in federal court for “unconstitutional bullying.”

The division is primarily an investigative arm, while the commission reviews appeals to the division’s findings, and can vote on whether to refer a case to an administrative law judge for a formal hearing.

Lamborn’s letter (download here) asks the justice department to investigate both the commission and Aubrey Elenis, the director of the Colorado Division of Civil Rights, for “their continued anti-religious bias. The Department of Justice cannot continue to allow a biased arbiter, who holds a near monopoly on anti-discrimination cases within the state, to continue to wage a personal campaign against individuals they disagree with,” Lamborn said in a statement Thursday.

The Masterpiece Cakeshop case played a central role in a fight over reauthorizing the Colorado Civil Rights Commission and Division of Civil Rights during the 2018 legislative session. Ultimately, the legislature passed a bill keeping the state civil rights agencies in place for another nine years while making minor changes in how commissioners are appointed, including the addition of two business representatives.

Lamborn said in his letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions that the commission has been on a “crusade” against Phillips for the past six years.

“It is abundantly clear that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission is incapable of being fair and impartial to the people before them.”

Marianne Goodland

Marianne Goodland

Marianne Goodland is the chief legislative reporter for Colorado Politics. She's covered the Colorado General Assembly for 20 years, starting off in 1998 with the Silver & Gold Record, the editorially-independent newspaper at CU that was shuttered in 2009. She also writes for six rural newspapers in northeastern Colorado. Marianne specializes in rural issues, agriculture, water and, during election season, campaign finance. In her free time (ha!) she lives in Lakewood with her husband, Jeff; a cantankerous Shih-Tzu named Sophie; and Gunther the cat. She is also an award-winning professional harpist.