In the battle between religious freedom and LGBTQ rights, a case declares a clear winner
The 2020 Supreme Court decision in Bostock v. County of Clayton, which (wrongly, in my view) expanded the coverage of a federal law – Title VII – that prohibits sex discrimination in employment to include discrimination based on sexual orientation and transgender status, has been the legal ricochet heard around the world. But after the notice was published, many questions remained, including how to deal with religious employers who face employment discrimination claims filed by LGBTQ employees.
Now, a federal court has provided guidance on this issue.
In Bostock, the Supreme Court was tasked with clarifying the prohibition of ‘sex-based’ discrimination in employment under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. However, the court hinted at the need for future testing on the issue of employment discrimination against religious employers.
Writing for the majority in Bostock, Judge Neil Gorsuch noted:
This Court has also recognized that the First Amendment may prevent the application of employment discrimination laws “to claims concerning the employment relationship between a religious institution and its ministers.” …and Congress went even further in the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (RFRA) …
This law prohibits the federal government from significantly burdening a person’s exercise of religion unless it demonstrates that doing so both serves a compelling governmental interest and represents the least restrictive means of furthering that interest…
Since the RFRA operates as a sort of super law, superseding the normal operation of other federal statutes, it could supersede Title VII commands where appropriate. But how these doctrines protecting religious liberty interact with Title VII are also questions for future cases.
One of these “future cases” – and possibly the first of its kind – is Bear Creek Bible Church & Braidwood Management c. Equal Employment Opportunity Commissionwhich was brought in federal court in Texas late last year.
Bear Creek Bible Church, a Christian church, and Braidwood Management, a Christian-owned healthcare company, were unwilling to hire or retain employees who engaged in homosexual or transgender conduct. They filed a class action lawsuit against the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and its commissioners.
They sought to certify two categories of plaintiffs: (1) every employer in the United States who objects to homosexual or transgender behavior for sincere religious reasons (e.g., religious employers) and (2) every employer in the United States. United which opposes homosexual or transgender behavior. transgender behavior for religious or non-religious reasons (all employers opposed).
Certification by a judge of a “class” of plaintiffs can greatly broaden the application of a court decision, even on a national scale.
In their lawsuit, Bear Creek and Braidwood asked the court for a declaratory judgment, that is, a judgment setting out the rights of the parties without ordering any specific action or awarding damages.
A party seeking declaratory relief is asking for a formal ruling on the status of a particular controversy, but no more. Here, the plaintiffs sought a ruling that both sets of plaintiffs were entitled to an exemption from the sex discrimination provisions of Title VII on the basis of their religious beliefs.
Among other things, they asked for a court declaration that: (1) the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the First Amendment Free Exercise Clause, and the Right of Expressive Association under the First Amendment impose, individually or jointly, exemptions to Bostock’s interpretation of Title VII.
The plaintiffs sought summary judgment, as did the EEOC and its commissioners.
With both sets of parties at an impasse, U.S. District Court Judge Reed O’Connor finally had the opportunity to clarify exactly how the Supreme Court’s decision in the Bostock case would affect religious employers in the cases. of sexual discrimination.
First, it changed the proposed class of religious employers into two “subclasses”: (1) religious-type employers and (2) business-type employers.
Noting that Bear Creek Church and members of the church-type employer subclass operate as bona fide nonprofit religious organizations, O’Connor clarified that these employers tend to explicitly state a religious purpose in their documents. organizational structures and to carry out their mission through education, prayer and worship. . Therefore, these types of employers were “religious organizations” for the purposes of Title VII’s statutory religious exemption.
With respect to Braidwood and the proposed second category of plaintiffs, O’Connor noted that while some companies have incorporated religious values into their business models and are run in accordance with Christian values, they are not considered religious institutions for purposes. of the title VII religious exemption. . But, O’Connor argued, Braidwood was still exempt from Title VII under the First Amendment and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
In his ruling, O’Connor not only determined that religious nonprofits can escape Title VII liability for firing, refusing to hire, or taking other adverse work-related actions against LGBTQ employees , he went further, saying that the two employer groups could implement gender-specific attire. and grooming codes for men and women, and could require employees to use washrooms designated for their biological sex.
Coincidentally, the Supreme Court recently examination refused in a case this would have required consideration of similar issues involving the application of a state’s anti-discrimination law to a religious employer. While the review was denied on procedural grounds, Judge Samuel Alito suggested the Supreme Court had set up what could be an “inevitable” showdown over the hiring rights of religious employers.
In Bear Creek, an appeal was filed by the United States Department of Justice, which represents the EEOC, with the United States Court of Appeals for the 5th circuit in February. This court’s decision will undoubtedly shape the course of civil rights law in America and provide much-needed guidance to religious employers who face allegations of sexual discrimination by LGBTQ people until the Supreme Court has the final say. word.
This piece originally appeared in The daily signal