THE BLOG

Misusing Religious Freedom as a Weapon of Mass Discrimination

03/26/2015 03:44 pm ET | Updated Feb 02, 2016

Religious discrimination is a real thing.

History -- both modern and ancient -- is tragically full of examples of times and places where religious discrimination has been the source of persecution, death and destruction. The perversion of religion into a weapon of mass destruction is antithetical to the core beliefs of all the world's great religions. And yet, none of those religions have escaped the sad reality that human beings -- given the power to do so -- will use God as an excuse to inflict pain and suffering on other human beings.

Our forefathers knew that. And they brought that knowledge -- that wisdom -- into our Bill of Rights with a First Amendment that begins: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof..."

The First Amendment both prevents the government of the United States from privileging one religion over another and protects each and every one of us -- as American citizens -- to believe whatever we choose -- or choose not -- to believe about what God thinks, approves of or blesses.

It is what protects our democracy from becoming a theocracy. And, as we watch with sadness and horror the nightly news stories of religious wars and sectarian violence, this guarantee of religious freedom is something Americans of all religions -- and no religion -- should rejoice and be glad in.

What that guarantee of religious freedom is not is something to be distorted and exploited to further a homophobic agenda of legislated discrimination against LGBT people. But that's exactly what happened today when Indiana Governor Mike Pence signed the so-called "religious freedom" bill into law during a private ceremony in his Statehouse office.

Officially entitled the "Religious Freedom Restoration Act" this bill will allow individuals and businesses in the state to deny services to LGBT people on "religious liberty" grounds -- doing nothing to restore freedom and everything to bolster bigotry. It is the first of many proposed measures pending in statehouses around the country - all with the intent of allowing business owners and individuals to discriminate against LGBT people on religious grounds.

It is a dangerous and detrimental piece of legislation -- not only for the LGBT Americans who are its direct target. It opens the door for discrimination, inequality and prejudice to nearly every citizen of every state, undermining the foundational American value of equal protection. It is nothing less than an orchestrated backlash against equal protection for LGBT citizens and the flagrant distortion of the ideal of religious freedom into a vehicle for religion based bigotry.

Bottom line: The First Amendment protects your right as an American to the free exercise of your religion. It does not protect your right to use your religion as an excuse to discriminate against other Americans.

And watching the tragic consequences of genuine religious discrimination on the nightly news makes it all the more urgent that we stand together and speak against this and other pending legislation -- and challenge those who are supporting it.

Because religious discrimination is a real thing. And this blatant effort to exploit it in order to attack LGBT citizens is a reprehensible thing.

Let the boycotts begin.