Truth and Meaning: Religious Freedom Simplified

You run a business in a small town in Indiana. You have lived in this town your entire life and you know everyone who lives here. You are a devout Christian and you live your life according to the teachings of Jesus. How can you know if your Constitutionally-guaranteed freedom of religion is being violated?

Let’s say that one day, 10 different customers enter your store. Now that your state has passed a Religious Freedom Restoration Act, you might decide to not to serve certain people because doing so violates your religious beliefs. Which of the following customers would you turn away?
  1. A teenager that spent time in a juvenile facility for petty larceny.
  2. A homemaker who needs help with her drinking problem.
  3. The local state representative who used incendiary mailers to defeat his last opponent.
  4. A Muslim who attends a mosque in a nearby town.
  5. The loan officer at the town bank.
  6. A local pig farmer.
  7. The town fortune teller and expert on horoscopes.
  8. A man who is sleeping with his neighbor’s wife.
  9. A woman who has not been baptized.
  10. A gay man.

If you picked #10, then you believe that your religion preaches that homosexuality is an abomination. If, however, you did not also pick ALL of the other nine, then your judgment about the gay customer is not truly based on religious beliefs, but on prejudice. If you do not refuse all 10 of these customers, then you are condoning either stealing, drunkenness, giving false witness, heathen worship, usury, eating impure foods, wizardry and magic, covetousness, and unrepentance – all sins according to your Bible.

So the very simple question is this: Are your basing your decision to serve any particular customer on your religious beliefs, or simply on your personal bias against certain groups of people you feel are sinful?
Here is another way to look at it. Let’s say that these same 10 customers enter your store. What possible actions that you could take would you deem inappropriate according to your religious beliefs?
  1. Looking the other way because the teen is just acting out.
  2. Selling the homemaker a flask of whiskey.
  3. Printing the incendiary flyers for the state representative.
  4. Selling the Muslim a rug that might be used for prayer.
  5. Co-signing a loan for a friend.
  6. Buying bacon and homemade sausages to sell to others.
  7. Asking what is in store for Aquarians today.
  8. Selling the man a box of condoms.
  9. Selling the woman a gun.
  10. Taking an order for a rainbow-colored wedding cake.

Again, if you picked #10, then you believe that your action would facilitate homosexuality and offer tacit approval of marriage equality. But if you did not pick ALL of the other nine, then you are discriminating not on the basis of religion, but because of your bias against gays.

You are not God. It is not your task to sit in judgment of others. You are not pouring the whiskey down the woman’s throat. You are not defaming a virtuous candidate. You are not forcing people to perform acts of ritual impurity. You are not condoning adultery. And you are not giving a sociopath license to kill. Neither are you putting two men in a bed and telling them to have sex. You are baking a cake. That’s it.
If you want to run a business according to your religious principles, fine. But, you don’t get to pick which rules of your denomination you will follow and which you will not, because that is not faith – that is discrimination and a violation of basic civil and human rights.

Truth and Meaning: Agenda Alert

We all face challenges in life. Taking classes, working at jobs, paying taxes, and a host of other responsibilities consume our time — time we might prefer to spend with loved ones and good friends. We care about our city, its parks and schools. We care about our neighbors and the well being of all in our community.

You might not want to hear about one more challenge, especially if you feel it does not impact you directly. But as Midlanders, as Michiganders, as Americans, whatever our religious beliefs, we must consider all people because our morals tell us to help the underprivileged and to stand against oppressors.
In recent weeks, you may have heard and read about a number of news stories relating to gay and transgender people in Midland. If you do not know any gay people, or understand the nature of being a transgender person, you might have set these stories aside. Hearing people that you perhaps respect speak out, you may have trusted their judgment based on their authority or committed resolve.
The first realization you should face, however, is that you do know gay people. You might not know who they are — neighbors, co-workers, store owners, or members of your church — but you know them. And the time to attend to these people in your life has arrived.
As concerned citizens, the plight of your gay and transgender friends and neighbors should matter because people with an insidious agenda live among us. These people are obsessed with gay and transgender people, and the perception that their presence constitutes a danger. Sadly, a leader of these fanatics now represents Midland in the Michigan State House of Representatives. Gary Glenn’s long-time compulsive hatred of gay and transgender people resurfaced in recent days via postings on his Facebook pages — pages that purport to represent the interests of his constituents.
Now, like all citizens, Representative Glenn has the right to hold opinions and we, as his constituents, deserve to hear them. At its core, our republic functions in large part because of the transparency of our elected officials and the rights of citizens to engage in conversation with their representatives. Glenn’s recent actions placed the issues of whether gays and transgender people should be protected from discrimination at the forefront of our attention. The problem, however, lies with the fact that when someone posts a comment of concern, or an opinion that dares to disagree with Representative Glenn on his Facebook pages, the comment quickly disappears and the poster is often barred from posting again. Many of his constituents also report no attempt on the part of their elected representative to respond to letters and emails.
This censorship and unresponsiveness to the concerns of his constituents grew in recent weeks. Our state faces major challenges relating to the economy, education, the environment and crumbling infrastructure. Glenn, however, spends much of his valuable time pursuing a personal war against a group only seeking fair treatment. A gay person in Michigan currently has absolutely no protection from being fired by an employer, or evicted by a landlord simply because they were born gay. Whatever your personal opinion about homosexuality, such legalized discrimination is abhorrent.
Gary Glenn has been the long-time president and voice of the Michigan chapter of the American Family Association. The AFA publishes diatribes that incite unwarranted distrust of gay and transgender people using allegations unproven by the vast majority of medical research and unsubstantiated by every major medical association. The Southern Poverty Law Center, an organization committed to teaching tolerance among all people, maintains a list of extremist hate groups. The AFA shares a place on that list with notable stains on the American landscape, such as the Aryan Brotherhood, the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, and the Westboro Baptist Church.
If Gary Glenn, citizen, wishes to peddle his filth about people who have done nothing to harm him, that is his right. But as an elected official, one might reasonably expect more decorum and certainly more validated proof of his insinuations and accusations — claims that are rapidly turning our city into a national joke.
  • His sponsorship of House Bills 4188, 4189, and 4190, which will allow agencies to legally discriminate against qualified and loving gay and lesbian couples seeking to adopt some of Michigan’s thousands of parentless children, is unconscionable.
  • His support of businesses to discriminate against gays and transgender people based on religious beliefs, while at the same time chiding Planet Fitness for its inclusive policy that assumes the inherent worth and dignity of all people, is hypocrisy at it finest. On March 9, he clearly presumed that transgender people are dangerous when he posted that the Planet Fitness policy “threatens the safety of its female customers.”
  • His snide reaction on March 22 to the promotion of Tony Lascari at the Midland Daily News lacked the class we should expect from someone in his position. He posted, “Agenda Alert — Midland Daily News’ new news editor: political science major who ‘lives in Midland with (his) husband.’”
  • His March 24 opposition to the recommendation of the State Civil Rights Commission regarding nondiscrimination protections based on a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity is mean-spirited and un-Christian. He posted “that local gay and gender identity rights laws are a ‘solution in search of a nonexistent problem.’”
  • And the dismissive tone of Glenn’s staff when responding to the Midland Daily News’ inquiry about his censorship of and lack of response to citizen queries (as reported on March 25) was evasive and arrogant.

This endless crusade against gay and transgender people embarrasses us. The First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States guarantees many bold and important rights for the American people. Government must never establish a state religion. Citizens have the right to speak their minds. And we have the right to redress our grievances to our elected officials and be heard. Representative Glenn’s attempts to legalize religion-based discrimination, stifle public comments, and ignore the opinions of his constituents represents not simply poor judgment, but a fundamental attack on the American way of governance.

So please be alert. There are people with an agenda — an agenda aimed at destroying families and undermining our ideals of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. These people present a real public menace by threatening innocent gay and transgender adults and children and their families, and by promoting discrimination, bullying, suicide, and homelessness among people who only want to live joyful and productive lives, just like you. This agenda rejects our commitment as moral creatures to love our neighbors and to leave judgment of others to the greater power of the universe. Write to Gary Glenn and tell him that you do not share his homophobic and transphobic agenda. Hold him accountable to communicate with you and not discard your concerns without regard. Tell your representative that you believe his actions against gay and transgender people are neither loving or just, and that his pursuit of this agenda is un-American.

Truth and Meaning: Community Values

In the past week, our state representative in Lansing has raised the issue of Midland’s “community values.” You might wonder if you can go somewhere to read an articulation of exactly what those values might be.

Last year, 100 community leaders were brought together by a partnership of the Midland Area Chamber of Commerce, the City of Midland and Midland Tomorrow to determine how we might best plan for the long-term success of our community. The expressed purpose of this group was “to enhance prosperity in Midland County by gathering key stakeholders to envision our best future through sharing ideas, building productive relationships and aligning economic development efforts.” The process of developing a strategic plan required the group to answer the fundamental question, “What do we know to be true?”
After months of work, a report was issued that can be viewed at the Midland Area Community Foundation website at Among the nine Key Performance Areas was this statement on Diversity. “Midland County is committed to equality and inclusion and welcomes, embraces and accepts all people.”
All people. That includes a commitment to not discriminate against anyone based on their heritage or culture, their physical attributes or their station in society. And in our group discussions, it also specifically included a commitment to welcome, embrace and accept anyone regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
Our state representative has recently expressed concern that people assuming new responsibilities in the community might use their new position “to promote a political agenda or bias that’s at odds with our community’s values. When it comes to holding people in positions of public influence accountable, the more public awareness, the better.” I could not agree more.
Representative Glenn, the leaders of this community have already spoken and have already detailed our community values in writing. The public is becoming more aware of your opposition to equality for certain residents of our community. Your strident unwillingness to welcome, embrace and accept your constituents based on their sexual orientation or gender identity is well-documented in your public pronouncements.
You are using your new position to promote a political agenda and a religious bias that is at odds with our community values. Therefore, the citizens of Midland County must hold you accountable for your attempts to influence the public through your homophobic and transphobic agenda. Whatever votes may have happened 10 years ago, or a century ago, have little relevance. The people of Midland County today — your constituents — are telling you to stop. Stop silencing our voices. Stop acting as if you speak for all of us. And stop ignoring our community values.
I also call on the leaders of our city and county to help Representative Glenn understand our community values by clarifying our commitment to nondiscrimination. The time has come to include sexual orientation and gender identity among the classes of people protected from discrimination in our welcoming community. Embracing and accepting our gay and transgender neighbors means protecting them from losing their jobs or their homes because of who they are or who they love.

Truth and Meaning: Gender Confusion

Recently, our state representative here in Midland, Michigan was quoted in the press as saying that the policy of Planet Fitness regarding transgender individuals threatens the safety of women. He called their policy “anti-woman” and added that it “violates the privacy, comfort and peace of mind of women.”

Perhaps it is really Rep. Gary Glenn who is confused about the notion of gender and what it really means to be “anti-woman.”
Here are some real “anti-woman” policies:

  • Failing to close the ongoing pay equity gap between men and women;
  • Opposing efforts to raise the minimum wage or require that businesses provide paid sick leave, both of which disproportionately affect women;
  • Forcing women to pay additional insurance premiums for medical treatment to which they are legally entitled;
  • Proclaiming the unsuitability of two women to raise children without the presence of a man;
  • Denying loving and committed women the legal rights afforded heterosexual couples;
  • Basing political opinions on the malicious and groundless lie that gay and transgender people are pedophiles and rapists;
  • Opposing efforts to educate children about gender identity and categorizing anti-bullying legislation as an insidious tactic of the dreaded gay agenda;
  • Undermining efforts to provide affordable health care to women and girls living in poverty;
  • Attacking health care agencies providing important services to women, especially in the more remote areas of the state;
  • Fighting against hate crime legislation that would protect straight women of color, lesbians and transgender women from harassment, abuse and violence;
  • Helping men whose wives have taken out Personal Protection Orders against them for domestic violence buy guns;
  • Denying spousal benefits to the partners of unmarried employees;
  • And falsely laying claim to the mythical moral high ground of “traditional family values” that will only serve to deny women basic freedoms and dignity.

Perhaps most ironic in Rep. Glenn’s stance is the utter hypocrisy of his position relative to businesses. On the one hand, he wants to give companies free reign to discriminate against women on the basis of the religious beliefs of the owners. But, on the other hand, he condemns Planet Fitness for its enlightened and compassionate policy respecting the individual’s right to define their own gender identity. Do you support businesses taking moral stands, or not, Rep. Glenn? You cannot have it both ways.

The most dangerous threat to the privacy, comfort and peace of mind of women in Michigan is not gay or transgender people. It is not Planet Fitness and its policies regarding gender identity. The most dangerous and anti-woman threat in Michigan — the person most truly confused about gender — is you.
To support the fight against discrimination in Michigan, please sign and forward our petition calling for protection of our trans* community.

Truth and Meaning: The Infallibility of Fallibility

Most of our problems today boil down to one root cause. Far too many people consider themselves, their ideas, their beliefs, their faith to be the one and only Truth. This fundamentalist way of thinking creates in our social discourse a false dualism – I am right and you are wrong. The middle ground gets obliterated and compromise means catastrophic failure.

Sadly, this disease is spreading. Some oppose anything a president does because he or she is from the wrong party. Any attempt to impose limits on access to guns is labeled by some as violating the core tenets of our Constitution. Some seek to ban all abortion, even when the fetus is brain dead and threatening the life of the mother.
American poet and artist Ezra Pound once said, “The technique of infamy is to invent two lies and get people arguing heatedly over which one of them is true.” Two of the largest infamous lies facing this nation today are White supremacy and religious infallibility.
White supremacy is insidious because it preys upon our passive acceptance of privilege granted merely because of skin color. White supremacy whispers in your ear that Black and Latino cultures are inferior; that Jews are Untermenschen (subhuman); that social engineers have orchestrated the demise of White people; and that the history of North America began when White Europeans arrived to clear the land of savages. Cloaked in the disguise of love of family, White supremacy today still wears the hood and sheet that made yesterday’s murderers anonymous. Embracing discredited science and social paranoia, White supremacy proclaims that those artificially forcing the different races together are the true enemy.
Religious infallibility is the doctrine that nothing you do in life matters unless you meet some precondition of faith. Salvation rests on accepting without question the literal words of some ancient document, regardless of its context or linguistic devices. Religious infallibility preaches from the rooftops that all Muslims are engaged in a holy war against you; Jews killed Jesus so they deserve any punishment God doles out to them; and Christians sit in judgment damning all others to eternal hell fire. Cloaked in the perceived purity of self-righteousness, religious infallibility brands gay people abominations unworthy of marriage equality or the ability to adopt children. Religious infallibility clings to political control like a bloated leech, seeking to turn every nation into a theocracy of injustice and intolerance.
Both of these lies are the product of small fanatical groups. Most people with light skin color do not hate those with darker skin. Most religious people are open to learning about other religions and participating in interfaith dialogue and works of charity. But the strength of these fanatics derives from an irrational conviction that they are incapable of error, and that anyone who views the world through a different lens is blinding themselves to their Truth.
That is why I am a Unitarian Universalist. We embrace fallibility. We acknowledge fallibility as a human trait. By affirming the infallibility of our fallibility, we are free to question, to search for truth and meaning wherever that search leads us. By believing that no one group has a monopoly on the Truth, we find value in all religions and philosophies. And by using our gifts of reason and compassion, we separate the freedom to believe from the freedom to oppress. By applying our gifts to the cause of justice and equality, we challenge those who would use their beliefs to discriminate, to cause harm to others.
Affirming the inherent worth and dignity of every person, and respecting the spiritual growth of others requires that we label White supremacy and religious infallibility as the lies they truly are. For the only infallible attribute of humankind is its fallibility – its susceptibility to the lies of the infamous.

Truth and Meaning: American Feudalism

Every day, we hear the mantra of the conservative extremists crying for less government, a plea that I share. We should have less government spending on the military industrial complex. We should have less government intrusion into our individual reproductive choices. Government should not be discriminating against people based on who they love. And our government should decriminalize nonviolent, victimless crimes and reduce our ridiculously high prison population.

Of course, these are not the freedoms that neo-conservatives want. They want illusory freedoms — impossible dreams born out of misguided delusion and just enough privilege to support the status quo. They want the freedom to buy any weapon unimpeded under the delusion that more guns means more security. They want so-called economic freedom under the delusion that every American has a equal and realistic shot at success. They want religious freedom, not out of any sense of loving one’s neighbor, but so they can sit in judgment of their neighbor.

Neo-conservatives want to return to the “good old days” — not the good old 1950’s, but the 1350’s. They advocate for a return of a monarchy of the wealthy elite, imagining that the entities like the Heritage Foundation, the NRA and the American Family Association actually care about them. By voting for intellectual midgets who mouth the right platitudes, they imagine that their precious little freedoms will be protected. By electing bigots and scientific illiterates, they imagine that the government will protect them from terrorists, Muslims, atheists and gay people.

But what we really get is government by those who can afford to buy it. We get endless war because Halliburton needs higher quarterly returns. We get exploding oil trains and leaking pipes because Exxon has no interest in pursuing alternatives to fossil fuels. We get genetically-modified foods because Monsanto wants every private farmer driven out of business. We get epidemics of addiction because Budweiser shows us how horses and dogs can love each other. We get colossal rates of domestic violence and sexual abuse because pharmaceutical companies make more money by telling women they are not beautiful and pumping men full of sexual enhancement drugs.

So while you work your entire life and enjoy your rare time away from work, American nobility profits from your fears and your endless quest to be better off than your neighbor. Even more ironic, the feudal lords of corporate America convince you that by helping them stay wealthy, you are helping yourself. They feed you the delusion that you work and consume products in a “free” market while shipping your job to China, busting your union and fixing prices on many commodities.

Your enemy is not your Middle Eastern neighbors, or your gay neighbors, neighbors who use food stamps or your neighbors that don’t go to your church. Your enemy is a small group of ultra wealthy people who did little or nothing to earn their riches and who have no intention of ever letting any of it trickle down to you. Your enemy is not the flesh and blood people who live where you live, but the corporate “persons” who are buying your government and shipping profits overseas. Your enemy is not the person who supports a woman’s right to determine when she will have a child, the man who loves another man or the person who uses a different name for god. Your real enemy is America’s feudal lords who swear allegiance to nothing but money, who love nothing but money and who worship nothing but money.

Truth and Meaning: An Open Letter to Lansing

Once again, our Michigan Legislature is spending its valuable time seeking to punish gay and transgender people for who they are. Bigots have resurrected a bill to allow agencies to turn away gay couples seeking to adopt one of the tens thousands of children in need of a home in our state. Perhaps you think bigot is too strong a word. But what else would you call it?

There is absolutely zero evidence that straight couples parent any better than gay couples. Medical authorities affirm that being gay or transgender is not a choice. So why would Michigan lawmakers seek to deny a child a loving home?

Since there is no factual basis for such discrimination, the only answer remaining is irrational bigotry. Then, let’s make two things abundantly clear. First, if you consider yourself a Christian, you have no scriptural basis for approving of such a law. There is nothing in the Bible condemning the union of a loving couple who happen to be of the same sex. Nothing. The verses that you are being told condemn homosexuality in fact prohibit deviant sexual practices, such as rape, prostitution and sex without a loving commitment. And unless you are willing to pass similar laws against people who are divorced or adulterers, what right do you have to support discrimination against gays?

Second, judgment is not up to you. Those who support this splinter legislation are blinded by the logs of hate in their own eyes. Since when have you so little faith in your god that you feel you must be his agent of punishment? Who says that you get to pick and choose who is worthy? If you feel so righteous, where is your judgment for domestic abusers, for racists, for polluters, and for usurers?

So, I request — in fact, I demand — that our legislators offer the proof that any organization acting as an agent of public service should be allowed to discriminate on the basis of their religious beliefs. Religious freedom does not equate to religious discrimination. Those who make this argument have allowed the seed of enmity to take root and blossom in their hearts.

Our state is becoming a national embarrassment. We used to make fun of “backwards,” “unenlightened” states. Now, we lie in the mud among them. Whether you are Republican or Democrat, conservative or liberal, Michigan’s war on sexual orientation and gender identity is morally abhorrent and will not stop until compassionate and loving people stand up for equal rights.

Truth and Meaning: Real Love

So, another Valentine’s Day is upon us. My message today is simple. You are loved.

Even if you get no cards in the mail, you are loved. If no one buys you chocolates or flowers, you are loved.

Whether you are Christian or Muslim, Atheist or Jew, you are loved. Whether you are conservative or liberal, rich or poor, you are loved. Whether you are gay or straight, you are loved.

I know this because I love you. As a Unitarian Universalist, I affirm and promote the inherent worth and dignity of every person, and compassion in human relations. Because I love you, I fight for your civil rights and for your freedom from discrimination. Because I love all of you, I advocate for a living wage, better public school funding, and clean air and water. Because I love every person, I dedicate my life to being my brother’s and my sister’s keeper, to justice for all, and for an end to violence and war.

And because you are loved, you do not need the roses or the heart-shaped boxes of sweets. You do not need to buy love at the store. And you do not need to buy the lies sold by the hate mongers and fear peddlers.

Despite the awful tragedies happening every day, the world is a pretty terrific place. In spite of our failures and heartaches, there is much to be said for living. But our lives are only as good as we make them, and we can all try harder to help those who are less fortunate to have a voice and a vote about things that affect them.

The best way to do this is to express your unconditional love proudly and publicly, without any expectation of any benefit in return. Love without judgment. Love with no strings attached. Love simply for the sake of loving.

Do I believe human nature causes us to be hurtful, distrustful and prejudiced? Not for a second. Am I a doe-eyed, naive Utopian? You bet. Love will do that for you. Love helps you see the innocent child in every person before life teaches them to be afraid and angry.

I am blessed to be married to a woman who reminds me every day of the power of love. And I am fortunate to be part of a religious community whose cornerstone is human beings caring for each other and welcoming all spiritual seekers regardless of their identities. May you feel that power within you on this Valentine’s Day, and every other day of the year.

Address Opposing the Religious Freedom Restoration Act

At the request of students from Adrian College, I was asked to speak at a protest on the Capitol steps in Lansing in opposition to the proposed Religious Freedom Restoration Act (HB 5958) on December 16, 2014 during the waning days of the lame duck session of the Michigan legislature.  The following are my comments (you may also see a video here, or listen to an mp3 version here).


Everywhere we turn today, politicians seek to justify the unjustifiable. “Corporations are people,” they tell us. “We need more bombs and so we must cut school lunch programs.” “The best way to fix our faltering economy is to double down our investment into the banks that got us here in the first place.”

And now we hear a new claim. With House Bill 5958, our legislators tell us, “Government must not burden people and businesses when choosing to exercise their religious beliefs, regardless of the consequences of that action on others.” Convincing us of the sincerity of such statements, especially given their inherent contradictions and the tremendous potential for and mischief by those taking advantage of such claims as these, presents a daunting challenge.

And because the task raises such difficulties, they must call on the greatest authorities to lend credence to their arguments. So, you hear many politicians today referring to the founders of this great nation. They quote Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Thomas Paine, and others as proof of the righteousness of their cause.

They carefully sift through mountains of books to find just the right quote – even if they must take that quote completely out of context. When the founders stood mute on a subject, they tell us what the founders were really thinking. When those tactics fall short, they shout words like “Freedom!” and “Liberty!” confident that they can rely on our patriotism and our trust in the democratic process that they act in our best interests.

And when all else fails, they wait until the dead of night. They skulk in the shadows of the halls of government until after the electorate has spoken. They wait until the time when everyone looks forward to family gatherings and singing joyous praises.

Then, they slink from behind their desks. They quietly announce a hearing – or bypass the process of a public hearing altogether – and pass whatever laws please them. They do this because they know, were it not for the distractions of the holidays and our everyday lives, we might hold up our hands and say, “Wait a minute…I don’t understand what purpose this proposed bill serves.” After months of hibernation, they race through the lame duck session because they are afraid that we might have the time to read proposed bills and share our opinions. They feverishly plunge through this window because it is too late for us to voice our discontent at the ballot box with politicians whose terms will end shortly.

Perhaps the legislatures populated by our founders operated with a similar lack of transparency. But, I doubt it. It was Thomas Paine, who wrote in his landmark work Common Sense that the faithfulness of those elected to serve in public office “will be secured by the prudent reflection of not making a rod for themselves.” In other words, our elected officials should not rule over us like tyrants, but should engage with us in dialogue and informed debate.

Later, Paine specifically talks about the nature of America. “This new world,” he writes, “hath been the asylum for the persecuted lovers of civil and religious liberty from every part of Europe. Hither have they fled, not from the tender embraces of the mother, but from the cruelty of the monster…” So clearly, Paine would not have dreamed of a legislature using the tactics of a tyrant to pass laws abridging the rights of those who fear religious persecution.

Our ancestors came to this land because people used religious beliefs to hurt, to imprison, and even to kill them. I understand the corruption of religion by those who wield it as a rod to punish others. My grandmother Theresa fled her home in Europe for committing the sin of divorcing her abusive husband. For this act of self-preservation, the church deemed her unworthy and excommunicated her – a punishment that meant death; for she was now shunned by employers, shop owners, and landlords. Staying meant homelessness and starvation because she believed in her right to live free.

My grandmother met the man who became my grandfather here in America. He, too, had fled Europe because the Serbian army would routinely cross the river into his hometown and conscript young men to fight the never-ending religious conflict in the Balkans. No matter how many times the military dragged him to kill people who believed in God differently, he defected and returned home.

A century later, people still die in that region because of their religious beliefs. Governments that claim to fight for independence, for self-rule, for self-determination, use that fight as an excuse to rape and murder those who are different. A simple carpenter, my grandfather understood the corruption of freedom by those wielding it as a rod to kill others. So, he made the perilous journey here to America, where he could believe freely.

After years of struggle, my grandparents raised a family. My father honored his parents and cared for them in their later years. After my grandmother died, my grandfather’s life became simple again. He would sit at the kitchen table drinking coffee and playing solitaire all day. He believed he would soon rejoin his beloved Theresa in Heaven and was content to await his death patiently.

One night, my parents hosted a prayer meeting. The minister of our church spoke about the evils of card playing. Finally, my father asked our minister if he believed that my grandfather would spend eternity in Hell for the sin of playing solitaire. When our minister answered “yes,” my father threw him out of the house and we never returned to that church.

My father, an engineer, had designed our church building. He literally helped build that congregation. He raised his children in its Sunday School. I remember singing “Wonderful Grace of Jesus” during Sunday night services. But that same church used its religious belief to damn my grandfather.  So my father understood the corruption of restoration. He saw firsthand how a church could roll back the clock to a time when religion was routinely used as a rod to condemn others to perpetual flames and torment.

By the time I became a dad, I chose not to believe in the God of my father or my grandfather. My children went unbaptized. And I raised them in a Unitarian Universalist church, where they learned to respect all religious beliefs and to honor the spiritual path they would choose for themselves.

As a Sunday School teacher, I learned the history and heritage of famous Unitarians, like John Adams, who once wrote to his friend Thomas Jefferson:

We have…a National Bible Society, to propagate King James’s Bible, through all Nations. Would it not be better to apply these pious Subscriptions, to purify Christendom from the Corruptions of Christianity…[Some say] I have renounced the Christian religion…Far from it. I see in every Page, Something to recommend Christianity in its Purity and Something to discredit its Corruptions…The Ten Commandments and the Sermon on the Mount contain my Religion.

Don’t kill. Don’t cheat. Don’t steal. Don’t lie. Don’t envy your neighbor. In fact, love your neighbor. Love your neighbor as you would have your neighbor love you. Nearly every religion preaches this basic golden rule. Love everyone. Do not love only those who believe as you do. Do not withhold love from those who do not meet your approval. Everyone. No exceptions.

So I understand the corruption of laws that claim to restore religious freedom. Laws like HB 5958 are not an act of religion, bringing us together in common purpose and principle, but an act of division. The Religious Freedom Restoration Act is not an act of freedom, relieving us of governmental intrusion into our souls, but an act of invasion. This proposed travesty of a law is not an act of restoration, renewing hope for a people suffering daily oppression, but an act of destruction.  This so-called Religious Freedom Restoration Act is a corruption of religious freedom; a corruption of our democratic principles; a corruption of the core tenets of our human community; and a corruption of the very soul of our state.

I have the great good fortune to be married to a wonderful woman. Jody serves as advocate for victims of sexual assault at the Underground Railroad, a women’s shelter in Saginaw. She wanted to be here with me today. But her commitment to serving others, and my commitment to support her work, superseded our personal desires. John Adams, my Unitarian ancestor, spent many years apart from his love. To our great good fortune, they left behind a collection of correspondence exhibiting not only their devotion to each other, but also their shared commitment to justice, equality, and freedom.

Abigail and John wrote often of this new nation and of the true meaning of words like “freedom.” In one letter, Abigail wrote:

How difficult the task to quench the fire and the pride of private ambition, and to sacrifice ourselves and all our hopes and expectations to the public [welfare]! How few have souls capable of so noble an undertaking! How often are the laurels worn by those who have had no share in earning them! But there is a future… reward, to which the upright [person] looks, and which will most assuredly be obtained, provided [that person] perseveres unto the end.

You here today know about sacrifice. You have given up your time and energy to be here and to have your voices heard by your elected officials. You here today understand working toward the common good and the noble undertaking of guaranteeing freedom to all people. You here today see too clearly how those charged with guaranteeing our freedoms wear the shriveled laurels earned by catering to special interests, by pursuing power over others, and through the self-righteous delusion that they know the one truth.

Because Abigail Adams was right – there is a future reward. Moreover, we need not wait patiently until we die to receive that reward. We can unite as one people. White or black – whatever our skin color – we can unite. Woman or man – whatever our sexual orientation or gender identity – we can unite; Catholic, Protestant, or Orthodox…Muslim, Jew, or Sikh…Buddhist, Hindu, or Jain…Agnostic or Atheist – whatever our religious beliefs – we can unite; Americans all, regardless of our documentation or ethnic heritage – we can unite.

We can unite to fight for equal justice under the law. We can unite to provide affordable access to health care for all. We can unite to protect our decisions on when to have children, when not to have children, and how to parent the children we have in safe and healthy communities. We can unite to ensure that every person has equal access to a quality education and a job paying a fair and living wage. We can unite to protect our planet from those who would plunder its resources and from practices that threaten our existence as a species through global climate change.

And by standing united against the corruption of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, we guard our right to believe or not to believe what we want in regards to religion. We oppose the sanctioning of discrimination against people on the basis of religious beliefs. We support the freedom of religious practice, so long as that practice does not harm others.

And we stand united to defend the wall of separation between Church and State described by Thomas Jefferson. For he acknowledged that the supreme will of the nation in behalf of the rights of conscience was that no legislature should pass laws respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise of religion. Jefferson wrote that “our civil rights have no dependence on our religious opinions,” and that depriving people of their civil rights on the basis of religious beliefs will “corrupt the principles of that very religion it is meant to encourage.”

A people united will never be divided.

Truth and Meaning: Frivolous Waste

During the last week of the recent campaign for District 98 State Representative, Midlanders received a barrage of lurid and sensationalist ads predicting all manner of doom and gloom that would befall Michigan should Democrat Joan Brausch be elected. Republican candidate Gary Glenn worked hard to separate himself from these disgusting tracts of fear funded from groups supporting his candidacy. But it must give one pause that if a candidate cannot control his backers before he is elected, what chance has he to be objective of lobbyists and special interest groups after he is elected.

Now, in his first public pronouncement since his underwhelming victory, our new representative has unveiled his first call to action. Nothing about roads or gas taxes. Nothing about job creation. Nothing about saving our retirees from unfair taxes. Nothing about school funding. And nothing about saving Michigan’s traditional families from the scourge of homosexuality and the “gay agenda” he fears so strongly.

No, his first call to action is to request an investigation into the money paid to a consultant by the state. No investigation into the allegations of fraud and nepotism by Gov. Rick Snyder. No investigation into the blatant misconduct of many of the emergency managers given dictatorial power over their cities by this administration. No investigation into the outrageous gerrymandering occurring in recent years. Our new representative’s first request is to investigate how the state spent .0002 percent of its revenues two years ago because he doesn’t like the reason the government spent the money.

What possible purpose could this investigation serve? The state paid a consultant to do a job, which he did. This same consultant was hired by other states to do exactly the same job. Michigan paid him $481,000 while Vermont — a state with 94 percent fewer people than Michigan — paid him $400,000. The consultant did his job and the state chose not to use his recommendations — much to the detriment of the poor and uninsured. So now Glenn wants to throw more tax dollars away investigating an expenditure already made for a job the state legally contracted, and which was completed.

The only purpose of such a call is not to exhibit any concern for the Michigan taxpayer. The only purpose is to discredit a medical insurance program that Michigan conservatives rejected in spite of the fact that many of our citizens have no access to affordable health care. The only purpose is to attack a program that has provided many millions of Americans with medical insurance for the first time. The only purpose is to bring the Washington brand of Tea Party obstructionism full force to Lansing and grind our government to a standstill wasting time on pointing fingers at nonexistent scandals, while at the same time providing no solutions to the problems that serve the interests of the people of this state.

It doesn’t matter that this same consultant also worked on a similar project many years ago. This same consultant was paid by then Gov. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts to design that state’s health insurance program — the exact program that served as the primary model for the Affordable Care Act. So it would seem that Glenn and his conservative backers had no objection to the consultant’s fees charged to create a system for a Republican governor that has worked splendidly. But when a similar program was passed after a year-long debate and signed into law by a Democratic president, all of a sudden Glenn takes issue with that same consultant working for Michigan to implement a similar program.

And let us remember that the Affordable Care Act has been a spectacular success. Health care spending by consumers is at its lowest rate in 10 years. More than 10 million previously uninsured Americans now have affordable insurance, driving the number of uninsured citizens down 25 percent in just one year. The second year sign-up period has already seen one million people visit the web page. And the overall price tag of implementation has come in at $100 billion less than predicted.

So, I offer a counter proposal to Mr. Glenn’s call to examine the out-of-context statements of an advisor to the project. Let’s take the money that this fruitless display of grandstanding will cost the taxpayers and buy a few tens of thousands of free school lunches; or replace some laid off public school teachers; or fill all of the potholes on I-75; or give a tax credit to a small business owner who will bring 100 new jobs to our region. Let us take the money the state will waste investigating this contract, and put it toward something that will help our citizens, like joining other states that have successfully implemented their own exchanges.