Discrimination Is Never a Religious Value

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence holds a news conference at the Statehouse in Indianapolis, Thursday, March 26, 2015. Pence has declar
Indiana Gov. Mike Pence holds a news conference at the Statehouse in Indianapolis, Thursday, March 26, 2015. Pence has declared a public health emergency in response to the HIV epidemic in Scott County. Seventy two cases of HIV have been confirmed in the southern Indiana county. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

As the number of corporate , governmental, and sports officials calling for the boycott of Indiana and the repeal of Indiana's expanded so-called Religious Freedom Restoration Act grows daily, we are witnessing in real time the sea change that has occurred in America's acceptance of gay and lesbian people (but not bisexual and transgender people) and marriage equality. If this law had been passed just ten years ago, it is highly doubtful that there would be this type of national engagement and indeed alarm.

There are many legal reasons that the Indiana law (and the Arkansas and Georgia proposals right behind it) far exceed the federal RFRA that have been well explicated by others. What has not received the same degree of media attention is why religious leaders and people of faith must also oppose Indiana's new law (and other similar attempts) while simultaneously calling for legislation in the 32 states that do not have legislation prohibiting employment or housing discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people (LGBT).

As the head of a national network of thousands of religious leaders, I affirm sexual and gender diversity as part of God's life fulfilling gift of sexuality. The Religious Institute calls for the full inclusion of LGBTQ people in society and faith communities and asks religious leaders and people of faith to advocate for sexual justice not despite of but because of our religious values. We stand with the courageous witness of LGBT people, the growing body of scientific research, and the actions of the mainline Protestant and Jewish denominations that inspire us to affirm sexual and gender diversity as a blessed part of life. Just two weeks ago, almost 2000 religious leaders signed a brief in support of marriage equality because of their faith commitments.

The picture of Governor Pence's signing of the Indiana Law demonstrated dramatically that it is only a small swath of America's religious landscape that supports discrimination in the guise of religious language. The fact is that most people of faith understand in their bones that our religions call us to care for the marginalized and the vulnerable, include everyone, and welcome all. For Christians and Jews, the misuse of the four to seven clobber texts in the Bible to bolster religious discrimination forgets the overarching message of Scripture: to welcome the stranger, love our neighbor, and view everyone as created in God's image.

Laws that claim to be based on religious freedom but allow bakers and photographers to refuse their wares to same-sex couples -- or pharmacists to deny birth control or anti-depressants -- or employers to deny the inclusion of preventative health care services to women -- or lunch counters to deny service -- are morally wrong. Your entitlement to claim religious freedom must stop where my religious freedom -- and my human dignity -- begins. No religious voice can speak for all traditions, and governments should never take sides on religious differences. The best way to protect our nation's precious religious freedom is to respect the separation of church and state when it comes to equality and full inclusion under the law.

We have reached a time when there is no turning back from the full participation of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in our society or in our faith communities. The national outrage over the Indiana law is surely a sign that we are approaching a time when sexual and gender diversity will be seen as a blessing that enriches all as surely the Creator intended.