As a Christian priest and pastor, I've just finished the holiest week of our church year -- a week that included the reminder that the "new commandment" Jesus gave his followers the night before he died was "love one another."
And you most certainly do not love one another by passing legislation that misuses religion as an excuse to discriminate against one another.
So for this week after Easter, here's my new commandment:
Thou shalt not confuse the freedom to exercise your religion with the freedom to impose your religion on other people.
Because here's the deal: Religious discrimination is a real thing. At this very moment it is a tragically real and present danger to thousands upon thousands of people around the world being targeted for violence and even extermination because of their religious beliefs.
History -- both modern and ancient -- is likewise 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.
It is not something some Americans should distort and exploit to further their homophobic agenda and attack on LGBT citizens -- but that's exactly what's happening. It is what was behind the Georgia "Religious Liberty Bill" - which the Governor has announced he will veto on April 5th. And it is the source of the North Carolina legislation eliminating all local ordinances prohibiting LGBT discrimination -- which is being challenged in federal court.
These ill-conceived pieces of legislation are nothing less than a flagrant distortion of the ideal of religious freedom into a vehicle for religion based discrimination by those claiming the right to discriminate based on their religious beliefs. And they are just the tip of the iceberg of dozens of pending pieces of legislation -- opening the door for discrimination, inequality and prejudice antithetical to the core American value of liberty and justice for all.
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.
Because religious discrimination is a real thing.
And this blatant effort to exploit it in order to attack LGBT Americans is a reprehensible thing.