Here We Go: Appeals Court Rules That Religious Freedom Provides No Legal Basis for Policy on Transgender Workers

Religious freedom provides no legal basis to discipline transgender workers who violate workplace gender policies, a U.S. appeals court has ruled in a groundbreaking decision.

The March 7 decision is the first to extend Title VII of the U.S. Civil Rights Act of 1964 to transgender individuals charging discrimination based on sexual identity, and reverses a lower court ruling that had protected the workplace under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA).

Detroit-area R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes violated Title VII by firing Aimee Stephens after the worker decided in 2013 to begin identifying as a female and no longer wear the company’s male employee uniform, the appeals court ruled unanimously.

“Discrimination against employees, either because of their failure to conform to sex stereotypes or their transgender and transitioning status, is illegal under Title VII,” the court said. “RFRA provides the Funeral Home with no relief because continuing to employ Stephens would not, as a matter of law, substantially burden [funeral home owner Thomas] Rost’s religious exercise.”

Southern Baptist commentator R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, said the decision’s interpretation reverses the intent of Title VII, adopted when biology at birth was a widely accepted gender identifier.

“That act only makes sense if we know what a man is and a woman is in order to say you cannot prefer one to the other in most workplace situations,” Mohler said in his Briefing podcast today (March 12). “This is a moral and legal mess but far more than that, it is a direct threat to religious liberty.”

The decision ignores RFRA, Mohler said, and strips the funeral home of its right to an “exemption on the basis of religious conscience and conviction.”

The appeals court remanded the case to the lower court for further proceedings consistent with the ruling against the funeral home.

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Source: Baptist Press