Supreme Court to Hear Major LGBT Cases

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by Christine Niles, M.St. (Oxon.), J.D.  •  ChurchMilitant.com  •  April 23, 2019   

Interpretation of Civil Rights Act could significantly impact religious freedom in the workplace

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WASHINGTON (ChurchMilitant.com) - The U.S. Supreme Court is set to hear three cases that will have a significant impact on religious freedom, workplace rights and the LGBT agenda in this country. The cases will also give insight into how the newfound conservative majority on the High Court will rule on such issues.

On Monday, the Supreme Court announced it had granted a hearing for three cases that challenge the scope of the Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and whether it covers claims of discrimination for sexual orientation. 

Title VII's language explicitly prohibits discrimination based on "race, color, religion, sex, or national origin." According to the Department of Justice, because there is no mention of sexual orientation in the statute, and because Congress never contemplated sexual orientation when the law was enacted, Title VII does not cover claims of workplace discrimination based on one's status as homosexual or transgender.

Most federal cases agree that the act does not cover sexual orientation, but a handful have ruled differently, resulting in a split in the circuit courts. 

Most federal cases agree that the act does not cover sexual orientation, but a handful have ruled differently.

Two cases accepted before the High Court have involved opposite rulings: Bostock v. Clayton County, Ga., in which the 11th Circuit Court ruled that Bostock's claim that he was fired because he is homosexual is not covered under Title VII; and Altitude Express Inc. v. Zarda, involving a gay skydiving instructor who claims he was fired for being homosexual; the Second Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Title VII can be interpreted to cover his claim of discrimination.

According to Chief Judge Robert Katzmann, writing for the majority, "sexual orientation discrimination is motivated, at least in part, by sex and is thus a subset of sex discrimination."


 

Judge Gerard Lynch dissented, arguing that the court was overstepping its bounds by giving the statute such an expansive interpretation.

"Speaking solely as a citizen, I would be delighted to awake one morning and learn that Congress had just passed legislation adding sexual orientation to the list of grounds of employment discrimination prohibited under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964," Lynch wrote. 

"I would be equally pleased to awake to learn that Congress had secretly passed such legislation more than a half-century ago — until I actually woke up and realized that I must have been still asleep and dreaming," he continued, "Because we all know that Congress did no such thing."

With the recent confirmation of Justice Brett Kavanaugh to the High Court, replacing the retired Justice Anthony Kennedy, a leading gay rights advocate from the bench, pro-family advocates are looking to the new conservative majority to rule in favor of a traditional and literal reading of Title VII, to exclude workplace discrimination claims based on sexual orientation.

Critics of a more expansive interpretation of the law fear it would lead to the quashing of conscience rights in the workplace for Christians, Muslims, Orthodox Jews or other people of faith who believe same-sex acts are sinful and cannot in good conscience employ active homosexuals.

"If the Supreme Court upholds the Seventh and Second Circuits, every federal law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex will eventually be re-interpreted to include sexual orientation and gender identity," wrote John Stonestreet at Breakpoint. "This will put a lot more than just bakers and florists in the crosshairs. The impact on Christian Colleges alone would be devastating."

Neither government agencies nor the courts have authority to rewrite federal law by replacing 'sex' with 'gender identity.'

"Neither government agencies nor the courts have authority to rewrite federal law by replacing 'sex' with 'gender identity,'" said John Bursch of Alliance Defending Freedom, which is representing R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes in the third case being heard before the Supreme Court.

Aimee Stephens filed suit against the funeral home after it fired Stephens for being transgender. The Sixth Circuit Court ruled that the funeral home had violated her rights under Title VII.

"The funeral home wants to serve families mourning the loss of a loved one, but the E.E.O.C. has elevated its political goals above the interests of the grieving people that the funeral home serves," Bursch argued.

 

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