“An employer who fires an individual merely for being gay or transgender defies the law.” This is the conclusion of Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch’s majority opinion handed down Monday. The court ruled that “an employer who fires an individual merely for being gay or transgender violates Title VII.”
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 makes it unlawful “for an employer to fail or refuse to hire or discharge any individual, or otherwise to discriminate against any individual . . . because of such individual’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.” The court, by a six-to-three margin, ruled that “sex” applies to homosexual and transgender persons.
When I saw the news, I thought immediately about religious liberty. Does the ruling mean that churches, Christian schools, ministries, and other religious institutions could be forced to violate our biblical convictions regarding gender and sexuality? If your church’s pastor declared that he was transgender, would your congregation be able to end his employment on that basis? Could a ministry refuse to hire a gay person on the basis of their sexual identity?
Let’s discuss what we know so far, then we’ll focus on three biblical responses to this issue.
Questions for Future Cases
Jesus taught us to “render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Matthew 22:21). A free church in a free state is the biblical ideal, a conviction protected by the First Amendment to the US Constitution: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”
Yesterday’s ruling notes the objection that “complying with Title VII’s requirements in cases like ours may require some employers to violate their religious convictions.” Justice Gorsuch writes: “We are also deeply concerned with preserving the promise of the free exercise of religion enshrined in our Constitution; that guarantee lies at the heart of our pluralistic society.”
Then he adds: “But worries about how Title VII may intersect with religious liberties are nothing new; they even predate the statute’s passage.” He notes that Title VII includes an exception relating to “the employment of individuals of a particular religion to perform work connected with the carrying on . . . of its activities.” (In other words, Christian churches cannot be forced to hire Muslim ministers, or vice versa.)
He adds that the court has recognized that the First Amendment can protect religious institutions and its ministers from the application of employment discrimination laws. And he cites the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993, which “might supersede Title VII’s commands in appropriate cases.”
The court did not rule on this issue yesterday, since the employers whose cases it decided did not claim religious liberty infringement. Rather, Justice Gorsuch concludes that such religious liberty issues are “questions for future cases.”
In his dissent, however, Justice Samuel Alito warns that the ruling could have implications regarding bathroom access, women’s sports, housing, healthcare, employment by religious organizations, and freedom of speech. He believes that the court’s decision “will threaten freedom of religion, freedom of speech, and personal privacy and safety.”
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SOURCE: Christian Post, Jim Denison