Coloradans Mike and Jane Norton don’t stand for assaults on religious liberty. They fight anti-freedom bullies, and frequently win.
The 2018 Beacon of Hope Gala, Jan. 27, will recognize the couple for their longstanding and ongoing defense of freedom and life. The annual gala benefits Marisol Services, a Catholic Charities agency that provides health care, housing, and human services to men and women struggling with unexpected pregnancies.
“Not being Catholic, it is a high honor to receive this recognition from a Catholic organization so dedicated to life and religious liberty,” said Mike Norton.
The First Amendment expressly protects individuals to exercise religion, free from infringement by government. On that basis, Jane Norton took immediate action after an independent audit found Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains used state taxpayer dollars to subsidize abortions.
The Nortons believe the state violates the religious convictions of Catholics and other abortion opponents by forcing them to pay taxes toward the contractual killing of unborn children.
To bolster the First Amendment’s protection of religious liberty, the Colorado Constitution strictly forbids using state taxpayer dollars to directly or indirectly fund abortions. About 30 states have similar laws.
Colorado voters approved Initiative 3 in 1984, which said the constitution will prohibit “use of public funds by the State of Colorado or any of its agencies or political subdivisions to pay or reimburse, directly or indirectly, any person, agency, or facility for any induced abortion…”
As director of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment in 2003, Jane Norton cut off state funds to the abortion business by executive fiat. Then-Gov. Bill Ritter, a Catholic, restored funding in 2007 by executive fiat.
Norton sued, with the assistance of husband Mike Norton – who doubles as her lawyer. The Colorado Supreme Court heard the case in November, and has not issued a ruling.
Jane Norton currently serves as director of Intergovernmental and External Affairs at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, so the couple maintain a home near Washington, D.C., and near Denver. Their home parish is First Baptist Church, of Alexandria, Va.
Jane Norton recently announced her resignation from HHS, effective Dec. 31, and the couple plan to attend the gala.
Jane Norton’s extensive public service record includes work as regional director for HHS under Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. She was elected as Colorado’s lieutenant governor in 2003.
Mike Norton, former U.S. attorney for Colorado appointed by Reagan, is president and general counsel for the non-profit legal organization Colorado Freedom Institute. He also works with other law firms to defend religious liberty.
While fighting to defund Planned Parenthood, the Nortons also fought to protect the Fellowship of Catholic University Students, Cherry Creek Mortgage Company, Hercules Industries, a consortium of nursing homes and other employers from a federal mandate that requires them to cover abortion pills with their company health care plans.
“Small employers have achieved some exemptions, but several states – including Washington, California, Pennsylvania and about seven different states – have sought to declare the new exemptions invalid,” Mike Norton said. “So we continue to fight the battle and see how we can help ensure people of faith are allowed not just the freedom of religion in their homes and places of worship, but in the marketplace.”
The Nortons drafted Colorado Amendment 43, which defined marriage as a union of one man and one woman. Voters passed the law by 56 percent in 2006.
Before the Supreme Court negated the law with its ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges in 2015, Lakewood cake artist Jack Phillips declined to create a cake expression that would celebrate a same-sex marriage ceremony held in another state. The Nortons rushed to his defense. The case led to a court battle the U.S. Supreme Court heard this month and will rule on next spring.
Mike Norton represented Phillips, who owns Masterpiece Cakes, in early stages of the case, and filed an amicus brief supporting him in the Supreme Court case. The Nortons believe the First Amendment prevents government from requiring Phillips and other artists to create expressions that counter their religious convictions.
Work to be done
Fighting to preserve and expand religious liberty was never easy, but the past decade presented an elevated challenge. One step forward for was sometimes countered by two steps back. The Nortons believe things have improved, in regard to religious liberty, with the election of President Donald Trump.
“Religious liberty was in grave peril during the Obama administration,” Mike Norton said. “The administration very much held to the concept that people were free to worship, so long as they kept it in their homes and inside the four walls of a church. The administration believed we could not take religious principles into the marketplace, as shown by the abortion pill mandate.
“The Trump administration has done all it can do to dramatically turn that concept around.”
One president cannot save the First Amendment, so the Nortons will continue their mission.
“Trump’s efforts have been met with great resistance by federal courts, most of which are controlled by progressive justices appointed by Obama,” Mike Norton said. “We have been so honored to work with the Catholic Church over the years in defense of religious liberty, and the work is not done. Lots of prayer, effort and focus need to continue.”