The world’s largest Catholic fraternal organization is coming out swinging against a bill sponsored by state Rep. Joe Salazar to cancel Columbus Day as a state holiday in Colorado.
The Knights of Columbus — named in honor of explorer Christopher Columbus — is opposing House Bill 1327, saying the legislation is based on “fake history” that originated with the Ku Klux Klan’s animosity toward Catholics.
The bill, which would allow state employees a floating day off in October, passed its first committee appearance last week and is scheduled for what promises to be a contentious hearing Wednesday afternoon before the House Local Government Committee.
A similar Salazar-sponsored bill that would have replaced Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples’ Day failed last year by a wide margin in a Democratic-controlled House committee amid complaints it would remove a holiday that honored Italian Americans in favor of one honoring Native Americans. Salazar, a Thornton Democrat, disputed this argument but noted that this year’s bill should lay that controversy to rest, adding that he’s confident Colorado’s Native American community doesn’t want to take over Columbus Day.
“Nearly a century ago, the Ku Klux Klan in Colorado targeted Catholics, including Italian-Americans,” Knights of Columbus Spokesman Isaac Cuevas said in a statement. “One of the Klan’s tactics throughout the United States was the denigration of Christopher Columbus and the attempted suppression of the holiday in his honor.”
The bill includes a lengthy section that reads, “The Columbus voyage triggered one of history’s greatest slave trades, the pillaging of Earth’s natural resources, and a level of inhumanity toward indigenous peoples that still exists.” It also includes a horrific excerpt from the journals of Bartolomé de las Casas, a Spanish priest, who described how Columbus’ men would hack pregnant women and children to pieces “as if dealing with sheep in a slaughter house.”
Cuevas dismissed arguments in support of the bill, saying some have been “tinged with offensive anti-Catholic overtones” even though advocates are calling it a “progressive” move. “In fact,” he said, “it is regressive as it takes us back to what the Klan outlined in the 1920s in order to promote ethnic and religious resentment and marginalize and intimidate people with different religious beliefs and ethnic backgrounds. We urge the swift rejection of this bill in any future hearings.”
“Scholars have long shown that de las Casas was prone to hyperbole and exaggeration, and the bill does not take into account recent scholarship on de las Casas or Columbus,” the Knights of Columbus wrote in a recent email to members. “The legacy and accomplishments of Christopher Columbus deserve to be celebrated. He was a man ahead of his time and a fearless explorer and brilliant navigator whose daring discovery changed the course of history. Columbus has frequently been falsely blamed for the actions of those who came after him and is the victim of horrific slanders concerning his conduct.”
Salazar told The Colorado Statesman when he introduced the bill that discussions with members of Colorado’s Italian-American community had reached an impasse this year.
“I want to be very clear,” he said. “As long as I remain a legislator, I’m willing to meet with the Italian community to do an Italian-American heritage day. I’ve always been willing to do that. But we just can’t have Columbus Day.”
In 1907, Colorado became the first state to recognize Columbus Day as a permanent holiday, although it had been widely celebrated around the country for some time and gained particular attention on the 400th anniversary of the mariner’s voyage in 1892. It became a federal holiday in 1937. South Dakota became the first state to cancel the holiday in 1990, and numerous states and cities have followed suit, although some instead celebrate both Columbus Day and Indigenous Peoples’ Day on the second Monday in October. Last year, Denver, Boulder and Durango established official recognition of Indigenous Peoples’ Day.