A New Supreme Court Case Asks If Law Supersedes Religion

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Thursday, November 14, 2019


On October 8th, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments for what could possibly be one of the biggest cases of this year. This case, R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes Inc. v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission & Aimee Stephens, takes up the question of the legal definition of sex and whether it should be expanded to include gender identity. This case will assuredly have major ramifications on how Americans view transgenderism and possibly how businesses can operate in the future. 

The events of this case go all the way back to 2007 when the funeral home hired a man, Anthony Stephens, as a funeral director. During this time, he had to follow the sex-specific dress code of the funeral home, which is consistent with industry standards, as well as federal law. This was not a problem for the first six years of his employment, but, in 2013, Stephens told the owner of the funeral home, Tom Rost, that he planned to begin dressing as a woman at work. 

Rost, whose family has run the business for almost 110 years with its mission to “honor God in all that we do as a company and as individuals,” didn’t agree with Stephens’ plans on the basis that would mean Stephens would be sharing the women’s restroom with women from grieving families and any women who worked there, one of whom were 80-years-old. Stephens went ahead anyway, writing, “At the end of my vacation on August 26, 2013, I will return to work as my true self … in appropriate business attire.” Two weeks later, Stephens’s employment was terminated because he didn’t follow the dress code.

After being fired, Stephens filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), saying she had been discriminated against in her firing under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. However, under current law, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex, not gender identity. Nonetheless, the EEOC is attempting to change its standard via this case. The outcome of this case will have major ramifications in the future.

Like the 2017 major case involving LGBT rights, Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, this case hits at the core of the question of whether businesses can run their business as they wish, including practicing their religion within its operations as seen in the aforementioned case as well as the landmark Hobby Lobby case in 2014. Both of these businesses won their cases, but the Supreme Court has not given a clear ruling on whether the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), provides an exemption from Title VII if the employer claims the rationale for their actions came from sincere religious beliefs. 

This lack of transparency has been going on since the passage of the RFRA and had been the leading predicament in the case as it will ultimately lead to being an instance of “legislation from the bench,” such as Roe v. Wade and Dred Scott v. Sanford. Thus, it should be no wonder why the Supreme Court took up this case after the Sixth Circut Court of Appeals reversed the Eastern Michigan District Court decision that said that Title VII allows for a sex-specific dress code and that religious freedom, as within the RFRA, supersede Title VII discrimination laws. 

When asked about this, Justice Alito worried that it was too late for judicial intervention. He said that “Congress has been asked repeatedly in the years since 1964 to address this question,” and that “Congress has declined or failed to act on these requests. And if the Court takes this up and interprets this 1964 statute to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation, we will be acting exactly like a legislature.”

The High Court seems to be divided among ideological lines when it comes to this crucial case. However, recent rulings from the justices can provide an insight into who will side with whom. This can most evidently be seen in last year’s ruling in the Masterpiece Cakeshop case, as this case was predicated on the question of whether the First Amendment to the Constitution can be applied to business transactions and if anti-discrimination laws override freedom of religion. 

On June 4th, 2018, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Colorado bakery in a 7-to-2 decision. However, Justice Kennedy, who gave the opinion of the majority in the case, has since retired from the bench and has been replaced by Justice Kavanaugh. Combined with Chief Justice Roberts and himself taking over the vacant role of “swing vote” on the bench, this could make the case much closer than last year’s decisive ruling in favor of religious freedom. 

The ruling for the case is set to be determined in the first half of 2020.

Daniel Elmore is a sophomore at Alexander Central High School in Taylorsville, North Carolina. He is in the top of his class and is very active in local politics as well as his local food pantry.

The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Lone Conservative staff.


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About Daniel Elmore

Alexander Central High School

Daniel Elmore is a sophomore at Alexander Central High School in Taylorsville, North Carolina. He is in the top of his class and is very active in local politics as well as his local food pantry.

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