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Religious freedom bills lock us in dark rooms 

It comes down to tradition versus change

It was pitch black inside the tiny room. I shined my penlight in my boyfriend Kenny's direction as he stared at items sitting atop a bookcase. Frustration was starting to tug at my insides. We only had 30 minutes to figure out how to escape before the serial killer returned and found us in his ransacked bedroom.

We were in the middle of a "mission" I'd booked at Black Out Charlotte, the newest escape room concept to open in the area, for Kenny's birthday. As "secret agents," we were locked in a dark room filled with puzzles and clues with one hour to find the key that would free us.

Unless you're afraid of the dark, it's not scary. It's a problem-solving adventure that forces you to exercise critical thinking and patience.

During our mission, though, with only a half hour left and no significant progress, patience was not high on my list. Frankly, I'm a sore loser.

"I know I keep coming back to this," Kenny said at one point, examining the items closer, "but I just feel like there's something here."

I won't give away any spoilers, in case you decide to undergo this Black Out adventure for yourself, but it turned out that what Kenny thought was a puzzle was actually a prop for the room. A non-problem. A distraction.

You know what else is a non-problem that lawmakers keep paying attention to? Christians in the United States being persecuted for their religious beliefs. I can't believe I just wrote that sentence.

Last week, N.C. legislators in both the House and Senate, including Mecklenburg County Reps. Jacqueline Schaffer and Dan Bishop, filed similar bills that potentially give business owners a free pass to discriminate against whomever they please.

Don't want to serve dinner to that handsome gay couple celebrating their 10-year anniversary because you're uncomfortable with homosexuality? Pull the religion card and kick them out of your establishment. Feel disgusted at the idea of filling the flower order for the wedding of a Jewish man and Muslim woman? Don't. Your religious beliefs, whether they're "central to a larger system of religious belief" or not, will protect you from repercussions.

The filings came the same week Indiana Gov. Mike Pence signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act into law, making the state the 20th to adopt such a law.

But the law comes at a time when gay issues are getting serious attention — the Supreme Court will offer a ruling on marriage equality this summer. And so, the backlash ensued. There's the hashtag #boycottIndiana. Angie's List canceled a $40 million headquarters expansion there. San Francisco and Seattle's mayors have even banned publicly funded travel to the state.

"These bills rationalize injustice by pretending to defend something many of us hold dear," wrote Apple CEO Tim Cook for the Washington Post. "They go against the very principles our nation was founded on, and they have the potential to undo decades of progress toward greater equality."

It comes down to tradition versus change. Traditions can be beautiful — the white dress at a wedding, for instance. But as humans evolve, traditions can become obsolete or harmful. (Example: Until 2012, the Augusta National Golf Club, host of the Masters golf tournament and located in my hometown, had no female members.) Therefore, change is necessary for the greater good.

While these bills offer an open-ended definition of religion, we all know this is really a fight for one group: Christians. (Come on: Do you really think the conservatives in Raleigh care if Muslims have religious freedom?)

The central message of Christianity that doesn't change is Jesus' message of love: Love God and love your neighbor as yourself. Yet so many high-profile evangelicals have warped those teachings. That was never more evident to me recently than at the rally hosted outside of Government Center the night City Council voted not to extend protections to the LGBT community. Church leaders took to a bullhorn to condemn homosexuality, and in the same breath talk about love.

Christians must make a decision: Do you "protect" your beliefs or do you love your neighbor? It's impossible to do both with a bullhorn.

The night my boyfriend and I agreed to be locked in a room to exercise our problem-solving skills, I was a little nervous. But I took comfort in knowing no matter what, someone would unlock the door for us. If North Carolina passes a religious liberty law, there'll be no escaping the darkness.

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