Catholic faithful vow to continue fighting controversial sex education bill

After roughly 10 hours of debate and over 300 public testimonies, a Colorado House committee voted 7-4 to approve a controversial sexual education bill Wednesday. The bill now moves to the House Appropriations committee.

Several overflow rooms were needed at the Colorado State Capitol on Jan. 30 to seat the hundreds of people who showed up to voice their opinion on House Bill 19-1032.

The bill would require public and charter schools that choose to teach a sexual education curriculum to follow certain “comprehensive sex-ed” regulations, some of which include teaching that abstinence is equal to “safe sex”; if pregnancy outcome options are taught, then abortion, adoption and parenting must all be presented without bias; and the content must promote “sexual activity, sexuality, and sexual orientation as a normal part of human development.”

Among those present in opposition were parents and people of faith, many who waited hours for their turn to speak.

“This [bill] specifically undermines the rights of parents because there’s a section of the bill that says that teachers may discuss gender sexuality outside the curriculum,” said Kelsey Buckingham, a nurse and mother of a child in public school and parishioner at St. Joseph’s Parish in Golden. “So even though the bulk of the curriculum allows parental consent, it puts a loophole in that allows for teacher to have these conversations with my child without my consent.”

In the midst of the waves of people that waited to testify, parents of homeschooled children and those with children in Catholic schools made their voices heard too, declaring that the bill would also affect them.

“Even though we homeschool, we have friends that go to public schools and they’re going to have conversations with [my children] that I don’t want them to have because of this bill, if it gets passed. It’s robbing children of their innocence,” said Stephanie Kelley, mother of five children whom she homeschools and parishioner at Holy Name in Sheridan. “This bill [also affects all parents by] removing our God-given right to parent our children as we see fit. Please let parents be parents and kids be kids. Do not put tools that can harm our children in their hands before they can handle it…”

The bill has been opposed by the Colorado Catholic Conference and the Archdiocese of Denver.

“[The bill] would require public and charter schools to either use a comprehensive sex-ed curriculum that contradicts human nature and is inconsistent with Christian values, or to provide no instruction on sexuality at all,” Archbishop of Denver Samuel J. Aquila said in a letter written to all the faithful of the archdiocese. “We know that God made us male and female, in his image and likeness, but the comprehensive curriculum route which most schools will likely adopt teaches innocent children this is not true.”

Also testifying Wednesday night was Father Daniel Nolan, vicar at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church in Littleton. His comments on human sexuality were challenged by Rep. Brianna Titone, who asked him: “As a Catholic priest, are you abstaining from sex?”

A reaction of disapproval spurted from most of the audience, but Father Nolan humorously replied: “Well, I am a handsome man.”

The representative then said: “A follow up question, which was my main point: You seem to be an expert on the topic, how did you become on expert on the topic?”

The priest calmly responded, “I hear confessions,” which was followed by an outburst of claps from the audience that the Madame chair was forced to silence.

Rep. Mark Bailey — who publicly opposed the bill and called it “a violation of the First Amendment” for its suppression of religion in school districts —argued that the phrase “healthy relationships” had problematic outcomes for parents: “This is what it really is about: for parents to have the right to define for their children what a ‘healthy sexual relationship’ is… Is this our role as a state to determine what a healthy sexual relationship is rather than allow parents to define that for their kids?”

In a similar statement, Stephanie Currie, representative of Family Policy Alliance, said: “Parents, not the state, have the inalienable, constitutional rights for the moral upbringing of their children. This means parents have the right to define the inner boundaries of what they call sane and healthy relationships.”

Moreover, other parents and religious leaders testified that the bill pushed gender ideology at the expense of religious beliefs or traditional values.

“Unelected Colorado State entities have already demonstrated animosity toward people of faith and in views about marriage and sexuality,” said Jeff Johnson, a father of children in charter school. “This bill is trying to inculcate students into [specific] ideological beliefs about sexuality and relationships. This ideology is not rooted in science… Sexual orientation and gender identity are not measurable discrete scientific realities. They are moldered social constructs, and that is what this bill is forcing on local communities.”

Even though many opponents of the bill were saddened to see its approval despite the great opposition, they’re resolved to continue fighting as the bill still needs approval by the full House and then also the State Senate.

“It was an impressive turnout. It was unbelievable seeing the people that came out in opposition to this,” Buckingham concluded. “I just hope the legislators are giving weight to the fact that so many people are voicing concern. I hope they can keep that in mind, that they’re representing the public.”

Problems with HB 19-1032

*If pregnancy outcomes are covered, abortion and life must be presented as equal options.

*The “age-appropriateness” of the curriculum is vague and the actual content of the curriculum is undefined.

*Cannot teach abstinence as the primary or sole acceptable preventative method.

*“Healthy relationships” are defined by the state, not by parents.

*Creates a loophole where programming on gender, gender expression and sexual orientation can be taught outside of the human sexuality instruction without notification provided to parents.

*Charter schools may not apply for a waiver.

To contact your state representative and ask them to oppose House Bill 1032, click here.

COMING UP: Colorado Catholic Conference 2021 Legislative Recap

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On June 8, the First Regular Session of the 73rd General Assembly adjourned. Over 600 bills were introduced this session. Policy primarily focused on transportation, agriculture, healthcare, fiscal policy, and the state budget. However, the legislature also considered and passed many bills that could impact the Catholic Church in Colorado.  

Some bills that were passed will uphold Catholic social teaching and protect the poor and vulnerable of our society while others pose potentially harmful consequences to the Catholic Church, its affiliated organizations, and Colorado citizens who wish to practice their well-founded convictions. There were also many bills that were considered by the legislature that did not pass, including two bills that would have upheld the sanctity of life and two that would have expanded education opportunity for K-12 students.  

The Colorado Catholic Conference (CCC), as the united voice of the four Colorado bishops, advocated for Catholic values at the Capitol and ensured that the Church’s voice was heard in the shaping of policy.  

Below is a recap of the CCC’s 19 priority bills from the 2021 legislative session. For a full list of the legislation the Conference worked on, please visit: https://www.cocatholicconference.org/2021-legislative-bills-analysis/  

For regular updates and other information, please sign-up for the CCC legislative network here.  

Six bills the CCC supported that were either passed or enacted

Note: Passed means the bill was approved by both chambers of the legislature and is pending the governor’s signature as of June 9, 2021. Enacted means the bill was signed by the governor and became law.  

HB 21-1011 Multilingual Ballot Access for Voters – Passed  
If enacted, counties where either 2,000 adults or 2.5% of the adult population primarily speak a language other than English will be required to provide a ballot in that language. 

HB 21-1075 Replace The Term Illegal Alien – Enacted 
With the enactment of HB 1075, the term “illegal alien” was replaced with the term “worker without authorization” as it relates to public contracts for services.  

SB 21-027 Emergency Supplies for Colorado Babies and Families – Passed  
If enacted, the state government will allocate much-needed funding for nonprofit organizations to provide diapers and other childcare necessities to families in need, including Catholic Charities.  

SB 21-077 Remove Lawful Presence Verification Credentialing – Enacted    
With the enactment of SB 77, verification of lawful presence will no longer be required for any applicant for a license, certificate, or registration, particularly in the job fields of education and childcare.  

SB 21-146 Improve Prison Release Outcomes – Passed  
If enacted, SB 146 will establish practices that ease the transition back into society for formerly incarcerated persons.  

SB 21-158 Increase Medical Providers for Senior Citizens – Passed  
If enacted, SB 158 will allocate more funding for senior citizen care, which is currently understaffed and underfunded.  

Eight bills the CCC opposed that were passed 


HB 21-1072 Equal Access Services For Out-of-home Placements – Enacted 
With the enactment of HB 1072, Colorado law now prohibits organizations that receive state funding for placing children with adoptive or foster parents from discriminating on, among other things, the basis of sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, or marital status. This new law will likely to be impacted by the imminent Fulton v. City of Philadelphia U.S. Supreme Court decision. 

HB 21-1108 Gender Identity Expression Anti-Discrimination – Enacted 
With the enactment of HB 1108, “sexual orientation,” “gender identity,” and “gender expression” are now recognized as protected classes in Colorado nondiscrimination code. This may have serious religious liberty implications for individuals and organizations that wish to practice their well-founded convictions on marriage and human sexuality. 

SB21-006 Human Remains Natural Reduction Soil – Enacted 
With the enactment of SB 006, human remains can now be converted to soil using a container that accelerates the process of biological decomposition, also known as “natural reduction.” 

SB 21-009 Reproductive Health Care Program – Passed 
If enacted, SB 009 will create a taxpayer funded state program to increase access to contraceptives.  

SB 21-016 Protecting Preventive Health Care Coverage – Passed 
If enacted, the definition of “family planning services” and “family planning-related services” will not be clearly defined in law and could potentially include abortion. Furthermore, SB 16 removes the requirement that a provider obtain parental consent before providing family planning services to a minor.  

SB 21-025 Family Planning Services for Eligible Individuals– Passed 
If enacted, SB 025 low-income women to be given state-funded contraception, “preventing, delaying, or planning pregnancy” services, which includes cessation services and sterilization services.  

SB 21-142 Health Care Access in Cases of Rape or Incest– Enacted  
The enactment of SB 142 removes the requirement that, if public funds are being used, a physician must perform an abortion at a hospital, and instead allows for abortions to be performed by any “licensed provider.”   

SB21-193 Protection of Pregnant People in Perinatal Period– Passed 
If enacted, SB 193 will eliminate an important protection in Colorado law for a preborn and viable baby when a woman is on life support.  

Five bills the CCC supported that failed  

HB21-1017 Protect Human Life at Conception – Failed 
HB 1017 would have prohibited terminating the life of an unborn child and made it a violation a class 1 felony.  

HB 21-1080 Nonpublic Education and COVID-19 Relief Act – Failed 
HB 1080 would have established a private school and home-based education income tax credit for families who either enroll their child in private school or educate their child at home, thereby expanding education opportunities for families during and after the pandemic.  

HB 21-1183 Induced Termination of Pregnancy State Registrar – Failed 
HB 1183 would have required health-care providers that perform abortions to report specified information concerning the women who obtain the procedure to the state registrar of vital statistics, thereby increasing transparency in the abortion industry.   

HB 21-1191 Prohibit Discrimination COVID-19 Vaccine Status– Failed  
HB 1191 would have prevented individuals from being coerced to take the COVID-19 vaccine by either the state or by employers.  

HB 21-1210 Modifications to Qualified State Tuition Programs – Failed 
HB 1210 would have allowed families to use some of their private 529 savings account funds for private K-12 school tuition for their children, including at Catholic schools.   

One bill the CCC opposed that failed 

SB 21-031 Limits on Governmental Responses to Protests– Failed 
SB 031 would have made it more difficult for law enforcement to protect innocent lives when protests turn violent.  

Two bills the CCC was in an “Amend” position that passed  

SB 21-073 Civil Action Statute of Limitations Sexual Assault – Enacted  
With the enactment of SB 073, the statute of limitations on bringing a civil claim based on sexual misconduct will be removed as of January 1, 2022. Under this law, victims of sexual abuse can pursue a civil cause of action if the statute of limitations has not expired, the abuse happened in Colorado, and the abuse could be considered a felony or Class 1 misdemeanor if it was a criminal case. 

SB 21-088 Child Sexual Abuse Accountability Act– Passed  
If enacted, SB 88 will allow victims of childhood sexual abuse to sue public and private institutions for abuse that occurred between 1960-2022. Victims would have three years to bring a historical claim, starting from January 1, 2022. Claims brought during this window would be capped at $387,000 for public institutions and at $500,000 for private institutions, with the ability of a judge to double the damages depending on how the private institution handled the situation. Despite unanswered constitutional concerns regarding SB 88, the Colorado Catholic dioceses will also continue to offer opportunities for survivors of childhood sexual abuse to receive support in a non-litigious setting.   

While the legislature has adjourned the 2021 legislative session, there is still the possibility that they will reconvene later this year. To stay up-to-date on Colorado legislative issues and their impact on the Catholic Church in Colorado, be sure to sign up for the CCC legislative network HERE.