Twice this week the Trump-Pence administration signaled that it will continue to pander to a narrow group of fundamentalist Christians who want to redefine religious freedom as a sword that can be wielded against transgender people.
Yesterday, in a stunning reversal of course, the Department of Justice alerted the U.S. Supreme Court that it now believes federal law barring workplace discrimination does not protect Aimee Stephens – a transgender employee of a Michigan funeral home who was fired when the business owner referenced his religious beliefs in opposition to transgender people and objected to Aimee’s decision to dress as a woman.
For five years, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) had stood up for Aimee in court, arguing that Harris Funeral Homes violated her civil rights when it fired her – an employee of six years – after she came out as transgender and began living and dressing as a woman in 2013.
That resulted in the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in March agreeing with the EEOC that the funeral home had violated Title VII of the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964 and that the business had no right under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) to cite religious beliefs as a basis for firing a transgender employee. (Americans United was joined by 76 faith leaders and 13 religious and civil-rights organizations in filing a friend-of-the-court brief in the case in support of Stephens.)
But the funeral home – whose lawyers include the Religious Right legal group Alliance Defending Freedom – asked the Supreme Court to review the case. In a response to the business’s petition, the federal government yesterday told the court it was flip-flopping and would no longer fight for Aimee’s rights.
“It is unconscionable that the federal government, after supporting Aimee Stephens through five years of court battles, would abandon her on the Supreme Court’s doorstep,” said AU President and CEO Rachel Laser.
It’s not clear how the Supreme Court will handle the case in light of the government’s reversal. What is clear is that yesterday’s action is just the latest in a string of attacks by the Trump-Pence administration on the LGBTQ community, and against transgender people in particular.
Over the weekend, reports surfaced that the administration is planning to roll back federal protections of transgender people and narrowly define gender. The move makes it clearer than ever that the administration is willing to disregard medical professionals and the law in order to push its own dogma.
“Yet again, the Trump-Pence administration is catering to a narrow segment of evangelical Christians and granting special status to their beliefs in federal policy,” Laser said. “That is unacceptable. We will not allow religious beliefs to be used to erase the recognition of and protections for transgender people.”
To learn more about AU’s work to ensure religious freedom remains a shield that protects people and not a sword wielded to harm others, visit our Protect Thy Neighbor campaign.