Title VII

No one’s rights should be determined by someone’s religious views, because discrimination is not religious freedom. 

The Supreme Court decision on June 15, 2020, is a landmark victory for LGBTQ people that affirms they have employment protections that allow them to live as their true selves. 

We cannot imagine a more critical moment than during a public health crisis to make clear that the government should ensure that all of us – no matter who we are or who we love – can make a living in this country.

But another fight is looming. The court specifically said that because the employers in this case did not rely on religious arguments, “how these doctrines protecting religious liberty interact with Title VII are questions for future cases.” The progressive, inclusive faith and secular communities must come together to make clear that religious freedom is a shield that protects, not a sword that licenses discrimination and harm to others.

America is a diverse nation, governed by our shared secular laws, which means the government cannot give religious privilege or special exceptions to some people while causing harm to others.

Background

On Oct. 8, 2019, the Supreme Court heard arguments for three employment discrimination cases. In each case, an employee was fired because their boss learned they were gay or transgender. On June 15, 2020, the court affirmed in a 6-3 opinion that Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act protects LGBTQ people from employment discrimination. 

R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes Inc. v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission: Aimee Stephens was fired by a Detroit funeral home where she had worked for six years because she began living publicly as a woman. The owner of R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes (who is represented by the religious extremist group Alliance Defending Freedom) said her decision to live as her true self contradicted his religious beliefs. Sadly, Aimee died in May 2020 and did not live to see the landmark victory she won for transgender people. 

Altitude Express Inc. v. Zarda: Donald Zarda, a skydiving instructor, was fired from his job after mentioning to a female customer that he was gay. Tragically, Don died in a skydiving accident in 2014; his partner, Bill Moore, and his sister, Melissa Zarda, have continued the lawsuit on his behalf.

Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia: Gerald Lynn Bostock was fired from his job of 10 years as a county child-welfare services coordinator after his employer learned he’s gay. 

In July 2019, AU joined the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and 57 other civil rights organizations to file an amicus brief with the U.S. Supreme Court in support of Aimee, Don and Gerald. 

At the rally in front of the Supreme Court on argument day, AU President and CEO Rachel Laser spoke of ensuring religious freedom is not misused as a license to discriminate.

Regardless of the Supreme Court’s decision, it’s imperative that Congress pass the Equality Act to address the significant gaps in federal civil rights laws and improve protections for everyone.