By Tom Ehrich

When three right-wing zealots claiming to be "Christians and patriots" tried to shout down a Hindu cleric giving opening prayer at the US Senate yesterday, they apparently felt justified.

I can assure them that their bigotry had nothing to do with Jesus and nothing to do with patriotism.

Nor did their shouts quoting Scripture have anything to do with religious freedom. Their shouts were a violation of the First Amendment, not an affirmation of it.

They left in handcuffs and probably felt righteously persecuted. The right wing loves persecution scenarios. But their trespass had nothing to do with the persecution Jesus suffered -- for his faith and tolerance, not for bigotry.

If anything, it was people like these three who shouted down Jesus.

It is time for Christians to take back our faith. We are a diverse assembly, both conservative and progressive, both church-oriented and informal, encompassing all sorts and conditions, and, in our best moments, living in harmony with our neighbors, no matter what their beliefs.

We aren't represented by bigots quoting Scripture. They are citizens and deserve the right to speak. But they can't claim to speak for Christianity. They speak for themselves and for what is apparently the ugliness in their hearts.

People die daily to defend their right to speak freely. People listen patiently in celebration of diversity. Those are the patriots.