Tag archives: Supreme Court

Bostock and Gender Identity: Gorsuch Cancels Male and Female

by Peter Sprigg

July 2, 2020

In a recent blog post, I noted that virtually all critics of Justice Neil Gorsuch’s majority opinion in Bostock v. Clayton County identified his misinterpretation of the word “sex.” The Civil Rights Act of 1964 forbids employment discrimination “because of sex,” and Justice Gorsuch interpreted “sex” to incorporate “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” as well.

I went further and noted that not only is “sexual orientation” not the same as “sex” or merely a part of it, but it is a different type of personal characteristic. Sex is an objective characteristic determined by biology, while “sexual orientation” is a somewhat vague concept that includes a fluid combination of feelings, behaviors, and self-identification.

The same can be said of “gender identity”—it, too, involves a mix of feelings (“gender incongruity” or “gender dysphoria”), behaviors (“gender expression” in the form of clothing, hairstyles, makeup, etc.), and self-identification (being “transgender,” “non-binary,” or “gender fluid,” for example).

However, the “gender identity” portion of Justice Gorsuch’s decision is even more muddled, and has even more radical implications, than the sexual orientation portion.

Bathrooms, Locker Rooms, and Dress Codes

For example, Justice Gorsuch dismisses concerns about “sex-segregated bathrooms, locker rooms, and dress codes,” saying those were not at issue in the Bostock case. Justice Samuel Alito’s dissent, however, declares, “The Court’s brusque refusal to consider the consequences of its reasoning is irresponsible.”

Although the majority opinion is 33 pages long, the heart of its reasoning is found in this simple hypothetical:

Consider, for example, an employer with two employees, both of whom are attracted to men. The two individuals are, to the employer’s mind, materially identical in all respects, except that one is a man and the other a woman. If the employer fires the male employee for no reason other than the fact he is attracted to men, the employer discriminates against him for traits or actions it tolerates in his female colleague. Put differently, the employer intentionally singles out an employee to fire based in part on the employee’s sex, and the affected employee’s sex is a … cause of his discharge.

(The flaw in this, as Alito and others point out, is that the fired employee in this hypothetical situation differs from the retained employee not in only one characteristic, but in two—both his sex and his sexual orientation are different.)

But let’s look at how the exact same analogy would apply to showers and locker rooms—perhaps made available as part of a fitness center provided by a company as a fringe benefit to its employees. Here is Gorsuch’s logic (with only the italicized portion changed from his opinion):

Consider, for example, an employer with two employees, both of whom seek to use a locker room and showers in which the employee may see female employees in the nude and may appear nude in front of female employees. The two individuals are, to the employer’s mind, materially identical in all respects, except that one is a man and the other a woman. If the employer fires the male employee for no reason other than the fact he looks at female employees nude in the locker room and shower and exposes his own nude body to female employees, the employer discriminates against him for traits or actions it tolerates in his female colleague. Put differently, the employer intentionally singles out an employee to fire based in part on the employee’s sex, and the affected employee’s sex is a … cause of his discharge.

This is not some generalized slippery slope argument—this is the precise (indeed, irresistible) logic of Gorsuch’s opinion.

But note something important: this outcome is not dependent on the employee’s “gender identity.” Under the Gorsuch logic, any male employee has the right to observe his female colleagues nude, and to expose his own nude body to them, in the locker room or shower. To limit this privilege only to males who identify as female would be, ironically, to “discriminate” on the basis of “gender identity.”

Lying About Sex

While this is the inescapable logic of Gorsuch’s opinion, he shies away from it in his actual discussion of “gender identity.” Here is the hypothetical he presents with respect to that issue:

Or take an employer who fires a transgender person who was identified as a male at birth but who now identifies as a female. If the employer retains an otherwise identical employee who was identified as female at birth, the employer intentionally penalizes a person identified as male at birth for traits or actions that it tolerates in an employee identified as female at birth. Again, the individual employee’s sex plays an unmistakable and impermissible role in the discharge decision.

His previous hypothetical involving sexual orientation was (somewhat) more straightforward—because a “man” (a “male employee”) is treated differently from (what Gorsuch considers to be) a similarly situated “woman” (a “female colleague”), there is (Gorsuch argues) discrimination “because of sex.”

But in the gender identity hypothetical, there is no “man” or “woman,” no “male” or “female” employee at all—only a person “identified as male at birth” and one “identified as female at birth,” each of whom “now identifies as female.”

Earlier in the opinion, Justice Gorsuch had said that “we proceed on the assumption that [the word] “sex” [in 1964] signified … biological distinctions between male and female.” To be consistent with that “assumption,” the first employee in the hypothetical should have been described as “a transgender person who is male but who now identifies as a female.” That language, however, would have been offensive to transgender activists, who insist that self-identification defines what a person really “is.”

If Justice Gorsuch had been consistent (and honest)—referring to “a transgender person who is male but who now identifies as a female”—it would have cast the “discrimination” at issue in a different light. When an employer (such as Harris Funeral Homes, in this case) parts ways with an employee such as Anthony Stephens (because he wanted to identify as female and be known as “Aimee”), it is not because of the employee’s sex, but because the employee is lying about his sex.

#SexNotGender

Justice Gorsuch scrupulously avoided any mention of the LGBT movement and its philosophical assumptions in his opinion, insisting that he was merely applying literally the language of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. However, the inconsistency of his two hypotheticals shows that it is impossible to discuss “gender identity” without addressing fundamental concepts of what is true and what is real.

Outside the Supreme Court on the day of oral arguments, supporters of Harris Funeral Homes in the gender identity case (which included radical feminists from the Women’s Liberation Front, or WoLF) carried signs with the hashtag “#SexNotGender.” This carried two layers of meaning. The most basic relates to the court’s interpretation of the Civil Rights Act—discrimination because of “sex” refers to biological sex, and it does not extend to “gender” (identity). At a more philosophical level, “Sex Not Gender” implies support for the view that the objective, physical reality of one’s biological sex is a more reliable indicator of whether one is “male” or “female” than the subjective, psychological construct of “gender identity.”

Which is more important—“sex” or “gender identity?” This is a genuine debate, and Americans have a right to hold and argue for whichever opinion they believe in. The problem is, it is impossible to be neutral on this point—anyone who uses the categories of “male” or “female” at all must make a choice how to define them. The Bostock opinion chooses “gender identity,” and forces that choice on private employers, even though Congress plainly did not do so.

The Civil Rights Act made it unlawful for an employer to discriminate “because of sex.” The Bostock decision goes much further—essentially making it unlawful for an employer to act on the belief that “sex” is real. A law that was intended to protect the male and female sex is being interpreted to abolish (biological) sex altogether.

A Loss for Women and Children at the Supreme Court

by Katherine Beck Johnson

July 1, 2020

Earlier this week, the Supreme Court issued its much-anticipated ruling in June Medical Services v. Russo, the first major abortion case the Court has taken up since President Trump appointed Justices Gorsuch and Kavanaugh. The Court’s ruling struck down Louisiana’s law requiring abortionists to have hospital admitting privileges. While Justices Gorsuch and Kavanaugh were both in the dissent, Justice Roberts proved to be the disappointing fifth vote that struck down the common-sense law.

Louisiana’s admitting privileges law was in the best interest of women. If something were to go awry during an abortion, the abortionist would be able to get the woman admitted to the hospital and explain to her doctors precisely what had occurred. If the abortionist does not have admitting privileges, the woman might be forced to call an ambulance and explain what had happened herself—a heavy burden to place on the woman, and quite impossible if she is unconscious. Requiring admitting privileges is a common-sense regulation that applies to every other outpatient surgical center in Louisiana. Nevertheless, liberal justices and Justice Roberts were unwilling to uphold the requirement when applied to abortion clinics.

In a previously decided case, Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, Texas’s admitting privileges law and a few other abortion regulations had been at issue. The Court held that Texas’ law created an undue burden. Justice Kennedy provided the decisive fifth vote that struck down the pro-life and pro-woman law. Justice Roberts dissented.  

Whole Woman’s was a poorly decided case that needed to be overturned. The Court had the chance to overturn it in June Medical with Justice Kennedy off the Court and two new Republican-appointed justices. Instead, once again, the Court struck down a law aimed at saving unborn lives and protecting women’s health.  

Justice Roberts dissented in Whole Woman’s, yet he voted with the liberal justices in June Medical to strike down Louisiana’s admitting privileges law. Interestingly, in his concurrence, Justice Roberts said that he still agrees that Whole Woman’s Health was wrongly decided, yet said he is bound by stare decisis to uphold the law. Stare decisis is a legal principle that means you decide a case bound by precedent, regardless of whether the precedent is correct. Roberts claims that “for precedent to mean anything, the doctrine must give way only to a rationale that goes beyond whether the case was decided correctly.” Yet, Roberts has not felt bound by stare decisis in plenty of his other opinions, including Citizens United v. FEC. When it comes to abortion, however, Justice Roberts suddenly feels his hands are tied. Regardless, if a legal precedent is wrong, he and the Supreme Court should do the right thing and overturn it. With women and children’s lives on the line, Justice Roberts chose to adhere to a precedent he acknowledges is wrong.

Justice Roberts’ adherence to stare decisis is problematic for the future of abortion law at the Supreme Court. If Justice Roberts thought adhering to a five-year-old precedent of knocking down hospital admitting privileges is so embedded in our country’s jurisprudence to deserve stare decisis, he almost certainly views Roe v. Wade and Casey v. Planned Parenthood as deserving of stare decisis, even if he disagrees with the opinions. This indicates that while judicial nominees are extremely important, they can be unreliable. It is no longer enough for the pro-life movement to depend on Republican-appointed justices and hope they will do the right thing on abortion.

Women and children lost at the Supreme Court on Monday. The abortion industry won. Once again, abortionists proved that rules don’t apply to them; they are exempt from laws. Despite this disappointing loss, the pro-life movement should not lose hope or remain discouraged. The fight for civil rights will continue—with or without Justice Roberts on our side.

Gorsuch Misses Meaning of Sex and Sexual Orientation

by Peter Sprigg

June 24, 2020

Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch has rocked the legal world in a set of three cases consolidated under the name of Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia by declaring that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 outlawed employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

Gorsuch accepted the argument that the law’s prohibition of discrimination “because of … sex” demands this result, because “homosexuality and transgender status are inextricably bound up with sex.”

However, Justice Alito pointed out in dissent, “‘Sex,’ ‘sexual orientation,’ and ‘gender identity’ are different concepts.” When the Civil Rights Act was adopted, Alito said, “[I]t was as clear as clear could be” that discrimination because of sex “meant discrimination because of the genetic and anatomical characteristics that men and women have at the time of birth.”

Virtually all the critics of the Bostock decision have cited this problem—that Justice Gorsuch erred in his interpretation of the word “sex” in the Civil Rights Act (or of the entire phrase, “discriminate because of sex.”)

I would go even further. I would argue that Justice Gorsuch fails to understand “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” as well.

Let’s look at the concluding, summary sentence of his opinion:

An employer who fires an individual merely for being gay or transgender defies the law.

My question is not just, “What does ‘sex’ mean?” but, “What does ‘being gay or transgender’ mean?”

The answer is not as obvious as it may seem. As I have been pointing out for years in my writings on human sexuality, neither sexual orientation nor gender identity are unitary concepts. Both, depending on the context, may refer to a person’s feelings, a person’s behavior, a person’s self-identification, or some combination thereof.

In the case of sexual orientation, a person may express romantic or sexual attractions toward persons of the same sex (feelings); a person may engage in sexual acts or sexual relationships with a person or persons of the same sex (behavior); or a person may either think or say publicly, “I’m gay” (self-identification).

While many may assume that all three elements of sexual orientation go hand in hand, it’s abundantly clear from social science research that they are not always consistent with each other in one person. A person with same-sex attractions may choose not to engage in homosexual conduct and may not identify publicly as “gay.” Is it meaningful—or respectful—to insist that such a person really “is” gay? A person may both experience same-sex attractions and engage in homosexual conduct, but may still choose not to identify as “gay.” Or a person might experience same-sex attractions and self-identify as gay, but choose to remain sexually abstinent. It’s also well-known that in unique social contexts—such as prisons—some individuals may engage in homosexual conduct even though they are neither attracted to the same sex nor “gay”-identified.

How many of the three elements must be present to say that someone “is” gay? All three? Two of the three?

In Justice Gorsuch’s opinion, he seems to lean toward attractions (feelings) as the defining characteristic—he speaks of a man who is “attracted to men” being discriminated against “for being homosexual.” (LGBT activists do something similar when say, as shorthand, that people should not be discriminated against for “who they love.”) Ironically, however, the discrimination alleged by the two plaintiffs in the sexual orientation cases reportedly occurred when they publicly identified themselves as gay. Gerald Bostock did so implicitly by joining a gay softball league; and Donald Zarda doing so explicitly in a comment about his sexual orientation to a customer.

Yet, as I have also often pointed out, when people (such as socially conservative Christians) express disapproval of homosexuality, it is virtually always homosexual behavior which is considered most problematic. “Discrimination” because of a person’s feelings alone would be hard to pull off, given that feelings are invisible. It is only when they are manifested overtly in sexual behavior—or in public self-identification which is taken as an indicator of sexual behavior—that “discrimination” is even possible. (I notice that Justice Gorsuch did not hypothesize about disparate treatment of a male employee and a female employee, “both of whom have sex with men.” Perhaps he would have considered it unseemly.)

LGBT activists would argue that discrimination based on any of these grounds—homosexual attractions, behaviors, or self-identification—should be illegal. But remember, the case was about the meaning of discrimination “because of sex” in a 1964 law—not about what LGBT activists wish was the law.

The fact that “sexual orientation” is defined by a shifting and uncertain mix of feelings, behaviors, and self-identification is one more proof that not only is it not the same characteristic as sex, it is not even the same type of characteristic as sex. “Sex” is not defined by feelings, behaviors, or self-identification. It is defined by biology—as Justice Alito said, by “the genetic and anatomical characteristics that men and women have at the time of birth.”

The Civil Rights Act simply does not apply.

Why Bostock Will Never Have the Final Word On Human Sexuality

by David Closson

June 19, 2020

Our rapidly changing moral landscape presents a daunting challenge for Christians committed to biblical sexual ethics. The LGBT movement continues to challenge centuries of norms concerning the family, marriage, and human sexuality. And a recent Supreme Court decision means legal definitions and understanding regarding human sexuality are changing, too.

Secular progressives often criticize conservative Christians for their alleged obsession with sexual ethics. But secular and progressive elites are increasingly forcing the issue, insisting everyone embrace their worldview and the full spectrum of LGBT policy positions or face social ostracizing, public shaming, loss of jobs, or other increasingly dire consequences. Those in positions of cultural and political influence are willing to use the coercive power of government to accomplish their political objectives. This was evident this week in the U.S. Senate as Democrats argued for the immediate passage of the Equality Act, legislation that represents one of the greatest threats to religious liberty ever introduced in Congress. It would gut our nation’s flagship religious liberty law, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which was passed nearly unanimously by Democrats and Republicans alike.

Earlier this week, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down a 6-3 decision in Bostock v. Clayton County. The majority ruled that employment discrimination “on the basis of sex”— prohibited by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 should be understood to include actions based on sexual orientation and gender identity. By reinterpreting the statute in this way, the Court essentially rewrote civil rights law.

Many conservatives were surprised by the decision and considered Justice Neil Gorsuch’s majority opinion to be a betrayal of the originalist and textualist approach he had previously insisted guided his judicial philosophy. As both Justices Samuel Alito and Brett Kavanaugh pointed out in their respective dissents, the majority opinion authored by Gorsuch imposed a meaning that would have been foreign to those who authored the Civil Rights Act and ignored the plain meaning of the statute.

The consequences of the Bostock decision will play out for many years. In the immediate future, there are significant questions about how the ruling will affect religious liberty. Can religious institutions such as colleges and seminaries continue to have have sex-separated dormitories and housing? Are sex separated private spaces like bathrooms, locker rooms, and changing facilities now discriminatory? Will women athletes be forced to compete against biological males in both scholastic and professional sports? Will employers be forced to cover treatments and surgeries that are not medically necessary and that are in opposition to their religious beliefs on human embodiment?  

Originalism and textualism are methods of interpreting the law. But as theologically conservative Christians, we hold to a form of originalism and textualism when reading and interpreting Scripture—the historical grammatical method. In other words, we believe God’s Word is authoritative, infallible, and inerrant. Because the Bible is “breathed out” by God, followers of Christ are called to obey and align their lives with it (2 Tim. 3:16). In order to obey and align our lives with the Bible, we must read and interpret it.

The historical grammatical method of interpretation means we take seriously the grammar and syntax of the words and phrases that appear in the Bible because we want to know what the text says and what it means. We also want to place the text in its historical context. The Bible was written in a culture that is very different than our own. To understand many of the stories, we need some understanding of the ancient world in which it took place. Although this process of reading the Bible takes effort, there is no other faithful way to read Scripture.

As theologically conservative Christians, we know our views on marriage and sexuality are increasingly unfashionable and go against the cultural zeitgeist. But we hold to these views anyway, because we believe the Bible’s teachings about marriage and human sexuality are clear.

Transgender activists posit a distinction between the biological reality of sex and the subjective, internal feeling of gender identity. The biblical worldview, however, affirms the goodness of the material creation and the human body. In fact, the doctrines of creation, incarnation, and bodily resurrection provide strong theological affirmation of our physical bodies. Genesis 1:31 says that everything God created, including the human body, is “very good.” In other words, our bodies (including our maleness or femaleness) are essential, integral components of who we are.

In a world disordered by the fall, the goodness of the body may be difficult for many to affirm, and the church should show grace to those who struggle with accepting their bodies. But Christians must also speak the truth in love and stand on our convictions, which biology and anatomy support.

Christians cannot and should not compromise their Bible-informed beliefs about human sexuality. Why? Because we believe in the authority of God’s Word. And because we believe the Bible’s teachings are what is best for society and individual flourishing.

The real reason theologically conservative Christians disapprove of the LGBT movement has nothing to do with wanting to deny people rights or oppressing a group of people. Our convictions come from our compassion for them and our concern about the consequences of certain chosen behaviors. Both the Old and New Testaments prohibit homosexual conduct, and since God created us “male and female” (Gen. 1:27), we have no right to recreate ourselves any more than the clay has the right to tell the potter what to do (Is. 45:9).

As evidenced by the muted outcry to the Supreme Court’s decision on Monday—even among many conservative groups—conservative Christians are increasingly on the periphery when it comes to our convictions on human sexuality. Christians, especially pastors, will continue to face mounting pressure to compromise—or at least downplay—the Bible’s teaching on marriage and sexuality. However, we cannot compromise our beliefs because we are committed to Scripture. While the Court’s decision is deeply discouraging, we do not give up. We know that we are advocating and fighting for timeless truths revealed to us in Scripture.

So, let us continue to articulate a biblically robust, theologically informed perspective on how Christians think about the major issues facing our nation in order to promote the true flourishing of individuals and of society.

Supreme Court’s LGBT Ruling Is Not “the Law of the Land” - and Congress Should Act to Make that Clear

by Peter Sprigg

June 19, 2020

On June 15, in a set of three cases consolidated under the name Bostock v. Clayton County, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that discrimination on the basis of “sexual orientation” or “gender identity” is a form of discrimination “because of … sex”—which was prohibited by the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Justices Samuel Alito and Brett Kavanaugh both wrote powerful dissents (Alito’s being joined by Justice Clarence Thomas) pointing out that the Court was effectively rewriting legislation (properly the role of Congress), not merely interpreting it, as the Court is supposed to do.

Some members of Congress have responded to the Bostock decision by calling it “the law of the land.” For example Rep. Bill Foster, an Illinois Democrat, issued a statement saying, “No American should face discrimination by an employer because of who they are or who they love, and I applaud the Court for … making that the law of the land.”

Even more troubling was a statement from Sen. Chuck Grassley, a Republican from Iowa and former chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. According to an article in Politico, he responded to the Court’s rewriting of the Civil Rights Act by saying, “It’s the law of the land. And it probably makes uniform what a lot of states have already done. And probably negates Congress’s necessity for acting.”

But is this true? Is Justice Neil Gorsuch’s opinion for the Court in Bostock now “the law of the land?”

The phrase “the law of the land” has ancient roots in the history of law. But in the United States, the term is explicitly defined by the U.S. Constitution. Article VI, Clause 2, states:

This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States … ; and all Treaties made … under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land . . .

That’s it. The Constitution, the “Laws of the United States,” and treaties constitute the “Law of the Land”—not Supreme Court decisions. While Supreme Court decisions may serve as binding precedent for the interpretation of the law for as long as those precedents stand, defenders of our system of government should always remember that only the written words of the Constitution, the laws, and treaties themselves are the actual “Law of the Land.”

Nevertheless, when the Supreme Court issues a ruling on constitutional grounds, it is sometimes referred to colloquially (but still inaccurately) as “the law of the land.” The reason is the relative difficulty of overturning such a decision. Generally speaking, the Supreme Court’s interpretation and application of the Constitution can only be overturned by a constitutional amendment or by a new decision of the Supreme Court. This is a difficult task, requiring the approval of two thirds of both Houses of Congress and three quarters of the states.

Many historic Supreme Court decisions, such as the 2015 Obergefell decision redefining marriage and the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision permitting abortion, were based on a reading (however strained) of the U.S. Constitution. The Court’s recent ruling in Bostock was different—it involved only the interpretation of a statute passed by Congress (the Civil Rights Act).

This is an important distinction. When a court—even the Supreme Court—misinterprets a statute, as it did here, not only is it not “the law of the land,” but it is fully within the power of Congress to correct the Court’s error by enacting a new law. In fact, Congress has done so on several occasions.

Sen. Grassley was wrong to say Bostock is now “the law of the land” —Congress writes our laws, not the Supreme Court. He was also wrong to say that “it probably makes uniform what a lot of states have already done.” Only a minority of states had made “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” protected categories in their state civil rights laws, and Congress had consistently refused to do so at the federal level, despite dozens of attempts.

In saying the decision “probably negates Congress’s necessity for acting,” Grassley may have been referring to the Equality Act—an LGBT rights bill approved by the Democratic-controlled House last year. Instead, Democrats are only accelerating their efforts to pass this sweeping bill, which goes well beyond the Supreme Court’s decision. Indeed, just yesterday, Senate Democrats were giving impassioned floor speeches about the need to foist the anti-freedom Equality Act on America—in their words, to override the “religious excuses” of the faithful.

The real “necessity for acting” that still lies with Congress is to correct the Supreme Court’s erroneous interpretation of the law, and preserve the power of Congress, not the Court, to write the “Laws of the United States.”

The Supreme Court Goes Rogue on Sex Discrimination

by Peter Sprigg , Mary Beth Waddell, J.D.

June 17, 2020

Earlier this week, the Supreme Court re-wrote Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by holding that sexual orientation and gender identity are included in the statute. 

The majority opinion in Bostock v. Clayton County, written by Justice Neil Gorsuch, claims to be using a textualist approach, yet its analysis and holding prove otherwise.

Justice Samuel Alito concisely opened his dissent with the summary: “There is only one word for what the Court has done today: legislation.” Justice Alito aptly compared this opinion to a pirate ship sailing under a textualist flag.

He went on to state, “Many will applaud today’s decision because they agree on policy grounds…. But the question in these cases is not whether discrimination because of sexual orientation or gender identity should be outlawed. The question is whether Congress did that in 1964. It indisputably did not” (emphasis in the original).

Indeed, Justice Kavanaugh’s dissent seems to show sympathy for the policy outcome, yet he agreed that it is not within the Court’s constitutional boundaries to make this change.

Despite its improper analysis of other scenarios, the majority opinion properly makes reference to “an employer who fires a female employee for tardiness or incompetence or simply supporting the wrong sports team. Assuming the employer would not have tolerated the same trait in a man, Title VII stands silent.” Yet it does not carry this analysis through in the cases at hand. The proper analysis is whether or not an employer would fire a female employee for homosexuality or identification as the opposite sex, but would not fire a male employee for homosexuality or identification as the opposite sex.

This wrong legal analysis leaves many questions unanswered. In seeming acknowledgement of the policy Pandora’s box it has opened, the majority opinion acknowledges the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and the Ministerial Exception, but only to say that how either would be impacted by the decision is not currently before the court—thus inviting litigation. The Religious Freedom Restoration Act is under attack in Congress, and the scope of the Ministerial Exception is currently under consideration before the Court, so these legal protections for religious freedom  provide little solace.

Justice Alito rightly points out that Congress has repeatedly refused to include sexual orientation or gender identity in Title VII or other federal civil rights statutes. Language to do so is included in the Equality Act and other bills which are introduced year after year without success. Yet, with its decision, the Court has essentially enacted the employment provisions of the Equality Act.

Sexual orientation and gender identity nondiscrimination laws are unjustified in principle, because these characteristics are not inborn, involuntary, immutable, innocuous, or in the U.S. Constitution—unlike race and sex. In many situations, such laws pose a threat to religious liberty, which is protected by the Constitution. Not only that, but these laws pose a threat to women and, even those who identify as homosexual or transgender.

Justice Alito acknowledges numerous areas where the majority opinion could have serious implications:

  • Religious employers could face litigation and be compelled to “employ individuals whose conduct flouts the tenets of the organization’s faith [which] forces the group to communicate an objectionable message.”
  • Transgender identified individuals could be entitled to use the bathroom, locker room, etc. of their choice.
  • Women athletes could be forced to compete against athletes who are biologically male in both scholastic and professional sports.
  • Schools could be prevented from having sex-separated dormitories and housing.
  • Employers could be forced to cover treatments and surgeries that are not deemed medically necessary and, for religious employers, are in opposition to their faith tenets.
  • Freedom of speech, as it relates to both pronoun usage and employees’ ability to express their beliefs about marriage, family, and human sexuality, is now called into question.
  • The standard of review by which courts judge claims related to sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination could be upgraded to a stricter standard of review, like that used for sex discrimination.

Sadly, the Court has yet again usurped congressional power to achieve a desired policy goal which Congress has repeatedly refused to implement, and which is detrimental to society. 

With the Court’s invitation for litigation, the American Civil Liberties Union expects hundreds of cases to be filed.

Now, we wait to see how this will play out in future litigation and how Congress will respond to this judicial assault upon its constitutional prerogatives.

Mary Beth Waddell is Senior Legislative Assistant at Family Research Council. Peter Sprigg is Senior Fellow for Policy Studies at Family Research Council.

3 Ways in Which Brett Kavanaugh Has Supported Religious Liberty

by Travis Weber, J.D., LL.M.

August 17, 2018

In light of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh’s impending confirmation battle, Family Research Council conducted an overview of his record and explained how he would likely rule on the issues we are concerned about. From that review, here are three ways in which Judge Kavanaugh has defended religious liberty:

  1. Judge Kavanaugh Has Defended Religious Believers from the HHS Mandate

In Priests for Life v. HHS, he dissented from the D.C. Circuit’s denial of rehearing en banc, arguing that the HHS mandate substantially burdened the organization’s exercise of religion, pursuant to Burwell v. Hobby Lobby. This is a very important conclusion on an important issue and shows Judge Kavanaugh to have a right understanding of the religious freedom burdens that RFRA guards against in this context. While his assertion later in the same case that Hobby Lobby “strongly suggests” that the government has a compelling interest in ensuring broad access to contraceptives seems unnecessary, he did conclude that RFRA protected the claimants because the HHS mandate was not the least restrictive means of achieving any such interest.

  1. Judge Kavanaugh Has Defended Religious Expression in the Public Square

In Newdow v. Roberts, atheists had argued that “so help me God” in the presidential oath violated the Establishment Clause. The D.C. Circuit rejected their argument, and Judge Kavanaugh wrote a concurrence stating that such “longstanding practices do not violate the Establishment Clause as it has been interpreted by the Supreme Court.”

More recently, in Archdiocese of Washington v. WMATA, the Archdiocese of Washington attempted to purchase advertising space on the Washington Metro during the Christmas season, and the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority refused to sell what it deemed a “religious” message for a religious organization. During oral arguments in this case, Judge Kavanaugh told WMATA’s lawyer that this was “pure discrimination” and an “odious” First Amendment violation, showing a keen awareness of potential violations of free speech and free expression with a religious basis.

[In addition], [h]e helped set up a voucher program supporting religious schools in Florida, and also represented the Adat Shalom Jewish group in their legal battle against a Maryland county that was trying to stop construction of a synagogue.

  1. Judge Kavanaugh Has Defended Religious Expression in Schools

During his time in private practice, Judge Kavanaugh chaired the Religious Liberty Practice Group at the Federalist Society, and worked pro bono to write amicus briefs in support of religious expression in schools. He wrote briefs in Good News Club v. Milford Central School, and Santa Fe Independent School District v. Doe, in which he argued that a public school must allow religious student clubs to use its facilities in a similar manner as other clubs, and that student-led prayer at football events did not violate the establishment clause, respectively.

For more, see: https://www.frc.org/issueanalysis/why-judge-kavanaugh-should-be-confirmed-to-the-supreme-court 

Warning to Conservatives from Paul Ryan: Don’t Rely on the Supreme Court

by Family Research Council

July 16, 2014

The Supreme Court is not a hero, and the conservative movement is not a damsel in distress.

This is one concept Congressman Paul Ryan (WI) discussed in his Independence Day Address, which he delivered at Hillsdale College’s Kirby Center this past Tuesday.

In the wake of recent Supreme Court decisions favoring religious liberty, conservatives could fall into the trap of putting their hope in a panel of judicial experts. This is a tendency that Ryan warned against in his final remarks:

Finally, there is the temptation to ask courts to intervene and solve our problems for us. Some conservatives think of judges the way Progressives think of bureaucrats: technical experts with the solutions to constitutional conflicts. But judges, like bureaucrats, are often the problem. We must be mindful of this temptation. It is true the Supreme Court can be an ally in conflicts surrounding the constitution. But, it can also be an adversary.”

Personally, the image of the Supreme Court as an adversary quickly brings the Roe V. Wade decision to mind. This decision legalized abortion and denied millions of Americans their right to life outside the womb. The Pro-Life movement would decidedly argue that, in the case of Roe V. Wade, the Supreme Court was an opponent of fundamental Constitutional and human rights.

Paul Ryan continued his statement, saying, “Let’s remember that under our Constitution of self-government, the court that really counts is the court of public opinion, where the American people hand down their verdict on Election Day.”

Congressman Ryan’s cautionary statements ring true. While each Supreme Court decision that upholds religious freedom and human life ought to be celebrated and encouraged, conservatives must not begin to neglect the importance of public opinion. The battle of ideas—whether concerning abortion, religious liberty or any other hot-button issue—is still taking place every day on Capitol Hill, in schools, and at the family dinner table.

This call to continue working to win the hearts and minds of Americans should leave conservatives throughout the country with a sense of empowerment, not discouragement. Each individual has the opportunity to reach out to his or her neighbor. Through conversations about political or moral dilemmas, acts of service, or prayer, individuals have the ability to impact the culture more fully than any Supreme Court decision.

The truth is that the conservative movement doesn’t need the Supreme Court as its hero. Rather than putting trust in institutions, conservatism draws its strength from individuals who carry out their duty and charity in faith that America will be blessed because of it. Hopefully the Supreme Court will sustain this renewed commitment to honor the Constitution and the American citizens. But whether it does or not, we must continue to stand firm and champion conservative ideals to a nation that desperately needs them.

The Tenth Circuit’s Kitchen v. Herbert Flubs Fundamental Rights Analysis

by Chris Gacek

June 26, 2014

Yesterday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit affirmed a federal district court’s decision striking down the definition of marriage found in Utah’s constitution. That definition limited Utah marriages to the union of one man and one woman. It was approved by referendum in November 2004 with 65.9% of the vote. In Kitchen v. Herbert, a 2-1 majority court struck down that definition by concluding, among other things, that there is a fundamental right to enter into a same-sex marriage. There is much more to the decision, but this note will focus on this key aspect of opinion.

As the U.S. Supreme Court instructed in Washington v. Glucksberg, 521 U.S. 702 (1997), the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment guarantees more than fair process. It “also provides heightened scrutiny against government interference with certain fundamental rights and liberty interests.” Id. at 720. But, how does one determine what rights and interests are “fundamental?” Glucksberg is the key case in setting forth the constitutional law in this area.

Paul Linton summarized the Glucksberg standard in the Family Research Council’s amicus brief in Kitchen (pp. 3-5) (edits to text, notes, and citations have been made below):

In determining whether an asserted liberty interest (or right) should be regarded as fundamental for purposes of substantive due process analysis under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment[] (infringement of which would call for strict scrutiny review), the Supreme Court applies a two-prong test. First, there must be a “careful description” of the asserted fundamental liberty interest. Washington v. Glucksberg, 521 U.S. 702, 721 (1997). Second, the interest, so described, must be firmly rooted in “the Nation’s history, legal traditions, and practices.” Id. at 710. ….

As in other cases asserting fundamental liberty interests, it is necessary to provide a “careful description” of the fundamental liberty interest at stake. For purposes of substantive due process analysis, therefore, the issue here is not who may marry, but what marriage is. The principal defining characteristic of marriage, as it has been understood in our “history, legal traditions, and practices,” is the union of a man and a woman. Properly framed, therefore, the issue before this Court is not whether there is a fundamental right to enter into a marriage with the person of one’s choice, but whether there is a right to enter into a same-sex marriage. ….

This is the point at which the majority opinion runs off the rails. It dodges the hard edge of Glucksberg requiring a tight, accurate definition of the claimed right. The Kitchen court goes in another direction asserting baldly (p. 35), “But we cannot conclude that the fundamental liberty interest in this case is limited to the right to marry a person of the opposite sex.” They cannot do so because they will not to do so.

Of course, there is a fundamental right to marry a person of the opposite sex. See Loving v. Virginia, 388 U.S. 1, 87 S. Ct. 1817 (1967). And, homosexuals are not precluded from marrying in any state. But, what is this national debate about? It is about the definition of marriage. Homosexual men and women assert that the laws of over thirty states should be nullified because, among other things, there is a fundamental right to marry members of the same sex. Furthermore, all states must be compelled to recognize male-male and female-female marriages.

Returning to the Glucksberg test it is manifestly clear that there is no such fundamental right, for it must be deeply embedded in “the Nation’s history, legal traditions, and practices.” How can this be possible with the claimed fundamental right to same-sex marriage? There is nothing about it that is firmly grounded in this country’s history, legal tradition, and practices. There were no same-sex marriages anywhere in the United States until the 21st Century.

Google is older than same-sex marriage.

There is a Supreme Court case that is instructive here, and it is Baker v. Nelson, 409 U.S. 810 (1972). Much blood in the same-sex marriage debate has been spilled over this case. In Baker, the Supreme Court dismissed an appeal from a decision by the Minnesota Supreme Court which had rejected arguments for same-sex marriage similar to those being considered presently in our courts. Baker v. Nelson, 291 Minn. 310, 191 N.W.2d 185 (1971).

The U.S. Supreme Court declined the invitation to consider the matter stating that there was a “want of a federal question.” It has been argued that Baker precludes lower federal courts from even considering these issues, but federal courts have brushed aside those arguments, especially in the post-Windsor environment. It should be noted that the dissenting judge in Kitchen did accept this argument. Judge Kelly would have dismissed the case and left it for the U.S. Supreme Court to decide whether it wanted to revisit this area of the law. That seems like the correct approach.

Laying aside the argument that Baker requires a dismissal by lower courts, Baker is highly instructive in answering whether any claimed right to same-sex marriage is “fundamental.”

In 1972, the fundamental right argument was presented to the U.S. Supreme Court, and it was rejected – as it had been in Minnesota. Because Glucksberg tells us that fundamental rights must be rooted in our nation’s legal history and traditions, such a right should have been extant only forty-two years ago when the Supreme Court considered the Baker appeal. Fundamental right questions are dyadic – you either have one, a 0, or not, a 1. Baker gives us the Supreme Court’s answer in 1972: 0. Both courts had the constitutional issues presented in a manner we would recognize today. The Minnesota Supreme Court quoted Loving noting “there is a clear distinction between a marital restriction based merely upon race and one based upon the fundamental difference in sex.” Baker, 291 Minn. at 315 (concluding the court’s equal protection analysis and discussing Loving).

Thus, the Baker Court had the core legal concepts and precedents before it that we now routinely see in same-sex marriage litigation (e.g., fundamental rights claim, arguments based on Loving), and it dismissed the appeal.

Of course, there are equal protection arguments to also consider, but one must reasonably conclude that the Kitchen majority’s fundamental rights analysis fails badly. This point is underscored by footnote 4 of the FRC amicus brief in Kitchen which provides a lengthy list of courts that have rejected the argument that any fundamental rights (Due Process) analysis supports the claims of the Utah plaintiffs challenging the state’s natural marriage definition.

Justice Kennedy’s Reminder: Some Americans Just Need to Grow Up

by Rob Schwarzwalder

May 5, 2014

In the majority opinion he issued today on public prayer, Justice Anthony Kennedy made a number of arguments with serious implications for religious liberty in the United States.

His opinion and the coincident opinions of Justices Alito and Thomas and the dissenting opinions by Justices Breyer and Kagan all deserve close scrutiny.  Religious liberty is the foundation of all other liberties, and any time the Supreme Court speaks about it, all Americans should listen carefully.

With that said, there is a particularly noteworthy thread of argument woven throughout Justice Kennedy’s opinion.  Several times, he alludes to a fact that needs to be expressed more often, both in our courts and everyday life: Mature adults should act that way.

Our tradition assumes that adult citizens, firm in their own beliefs, can tolerate and perhaps appreciate a ceremonial prayer delivered by a person of a different faith,” he argues. In other words, rather than wear your religious beliefs and cultural mores like touch-sensitive antennae, act enough like an adult that you don’t take offense unnecessarily or easily.

With respect to public prayer, Justice Kennedy writes:

… the reasonable observer is acquainted with this tradition and understand that its purposes are to lend gravity to public proceedings and to acknowledge the place religion holds in the lives of many private citizens, not to afford government an opportunity to proselytize or force truant constituents into the pews … That many appreciate these acknowledgments of the divine in our public institutions does not suggest that those who disagree are compelled to join the expression or approve of its content.

In other words, respect, decency, civility, and self-control are assumed in a nation that is not only diverse in its religious composition (although the overwhelming majority profess some form of Christian faith) but also composed of self-governing men and women who have the common sense not to take offense too readily.

Kennedy continues:

In their declarations in the trial court, respondents (those who filed suit against the Greece council’s permission of sectarian prayer) stated that the prayers gave them offense and made them feel excluded and disrespected.  Offense, however, does not equate to coercion.  Adults often encounter speech that they find disagreeable; and an Establishment Clause violation is not made out any time a person experiences a sense of affront rom the expression of contrary religious views in a legislative forum, especially where, as here (Greece, New York), any member of the public is welcome in turn to offer an invocation reflecting his or her own convictions.

Hear a religious or political comment you don’t like? Justice Kennedy is saying that unless it is personal, disrespectful, or invasive, deal with it: That’s part of being an adult.

Over-dramatization and sensational hand-wringing derive from our media-driven fascination with the morally lurid, even when that luridness is quite isolated.  Consider the responses to the recent repulsive racial comments of Donald Sterling, owner of the Clippers professional basketball team. They were disgusting, but they do not demand an exaggerated inflation of the presence of racism in America.  Commenting on the pervasiveness of racism in light of the Sterling affair, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar said, “More whites believe in ghosts than they do in racism”.

Put another way, does racism exist?  Sure.  But is it representative or preponderant or something about which to be panicked?  No.  Abdul-Jabbar is calling on his fellow Americans not to get carried away, not to magnify a relative anomaly into a

looming crisis.

In the same way, hearing “Jesus” or “the cross of Christ” in a prayer shouldn’t set peoples’ teeth on edge any more than watching a liberal Democrat opine on network television should upset a conservative Republican: You might disagree with the content, but you shouldn’t try to stifle the right of someone to express a profoundly-held belief or conviction as long as it is expressed with adequate civility and courtesy.

Citing Elk Grove Unified School District v. Newdow, Justice Kenney argues that “the Constitution does not guarantee citizens a right entirely to avoid ideas with which they disagree.”  And as to prayer at public or government-related events, he concludes:

Should nonbelievers choose to exit the room during a prayer they find distasteful, their absence will not stand out as disrespectful or even noteworthy.  And should they remain, their quiet acquiescence will not, in light of our traditions, be interpreted as an agreement with the words or ideas expressed.  Neither choice represents an unconstitutional imposition as to mature adults, who “presumably” are “not readily susceptible to religious indoctrination or peer pressure” (Marsh, 1983).

Justice Kennedy’s ruling is a welcome reminder that some of our fellow citizens just need to grow up.  Whether, in our era of political correctness and ready woundedness, they will or not is a different question.

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