Lessons from Thomas Jefferson for Bobby Jindal: Don't Use Religion to Support State-Sponsored Discrimination

Open Letter to Governor Robert Jindal of Louisiana.

Dear Governor Jindal,

I hear you support a so-called "religious freedom" law that would be even more restrictive than Indiana's. I'm surprised that after major companies pledged to pull their business, state and local governments banned travel, and people across our country pointed out the bill wasn't really about religion, but was simply a mechanism to facilitate bigoted discrimination, you would invite a similar -- and likely louder -- response by asking the Louisiana legislature to send you an even more outrageous bill. Governor, it's 2015. Hiding behind claims of religious freedom to justify hateful discrimination just isn't okay anymore.

Nobody understood this better than our founding fathers. You might know that today is Thomas Jefferson's birthday. Personally, I think he had some pretty good ideas. He once wrote a document commonly called the "Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom" that later provided key ideas underlying the First Amendment of our Constitution. In it, he wrote: "Our civil rights have no dependence on our religious opinions any more than our opinions in physics or geometry."

Jefferson recognized that in a country as diverse as ours, allowing the religious beliefs of some to dictate the fundamental rights of others would be destructive to our nation's foundations of liberty and equality.

The law you are requesting legalizes discrimination against LGBT individuals and other minorities under this false veil of religious freedom. Here in New York, I've introduced legislation to ban all state-funded trips to places that refuse to protect all of their citizens equally, like you are seeking to do in Louisiana. Our hard-earned money will not be used to support bigoted practices that contradict the freedoms provided in our Constitution. My state is committed to providing true equal protection to all of its citizens, regardless of their sexual orientation, gender, race or religion. Personally, I have visited and enjoyed Louisiana many times, and would hate to have to remove it from my potential travel options.

As we observe Thomas Jefferson's birthday today, and the Louisiana Legislature convenes for the first time this year, I urge you to review this founding father's words and intent. True religious freedom allows individuals to practice their religion without coercion from the state, but does not provide the right to diminish the civil rights of others.

Very truly yours,

Daniel O'Donnell
Assembly Member
New York State, 69th District