Pride Month continued to be anything but for some public officials who would use their religious views to undermine LGBTQ rights.

The latest example of an elected official using his or her platform to spew hateful remarks about LBGTQ constituents comes from West Virginia. State Sen. Michael Azinger (R-Wood County) wrote an op-ed in the Parkersburg News and Sentinel entitled, “The shame of LGBTQ Pride,” in response to the paper’s coverage of a gay pride picnic. It’s not the most subtle piece.

Azinger begins his column with a quote from D. James Kennedy assailing tolerance as the “last virtue of a depraved society.” Yes, really – a call for less tolerance.

Kennedy, a now-deceased televangelist who helped to found Religious Right groups including the Alliance Defending Freedom, propagated the myth of the Founding Fathers creating America as a “Christian nation.” Additionally, Kennedy called for the “conversion of homosexuals … through the power of Jesus Christ” in his book, “What’s Wrong with Same-Sex Marriage.”       

So that’s how Azinger begins his column, and it only goes downhill from there. Not only does he expound on his belief that homosexuality is an inherent sin and that celebrating LGBTQ pride is evidence that “[s]exual deviancy is going mainstream,” but he picks up Kennedy’s mantle of America as an officially Christian nation that should be governed by the Bible.

“There was a time in America – not too long ago – that the Bible was that fountainhead; that teacher of first principles; that arbiter of right and wrong. That is quickly fading,” Azinger wrote.

“So, who defines marriage? Who defines sexuality?” he continued. “There was a day in our country when God defined both; when Americans believed monolithically that transcendent absolute truth came from the Bible. In fact, we were, in those days, without the chaos that we have in our culture today. But no more.”

Alas, Azinger describes a country that has never existed. The U.S. is a secular nation, governed by our Constitution, not religious doctrine. And even while a majority of Americans historically have been Christian, it’s far from accurate to describe their views as “monolithic” – even Christians have a plurality of beliefs about LGBTQ equality and many other social issues.

Our Constitution grants Azinger and everyone else the right to believe whatever they want about God, religion, LGBTQ people, marriage and sexuality. But it does not grant Azinger or anyone else the right to insist that others live by certain religious beliefs or to use religion as the basis for public policy – particularly in ways that harm others.

Sadly, the head of West Virginia’s Republican party, Melody Potter, did not criticize or even condemn Azinger’s words. Rather, she endorsed his position, maintaining that Azinger is “right on and is biblically based.”

With views like these coming from people in power in West Virginia, it’s no wonder move.org ranked it as the worst state in the country to start an LGBTQ family. But West Virginia isn’t the only state with public officials trying to undermine the spirt of Pride Month in recent weeks – I recently wrote about an Alabama county official who disparaged LGBTQ people, and AU’s Rob Boston wrote about two Tennessee officials with similar views.

These folks demonstrate that we still have work to do to achieve full equality for LGBTQ people. That’s why Americans United’s work to ensure religious freedom remains a shield that protects people and is not used as a sword to harm others is more important than ever. In honor of Pride Month, please consider supporting our work!