SCOTUS Ruled in Support of LGBTQ Workers—But Religious Exemptions Remain a Threat

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

The Rights, Faith & Democracy Collaborative (RFDC), an initiative of Proteus Fund, joins our partners in the intersectional movements for LGBTQ equality and racial justice in celebrating Monday’s ruling by the United States Supreme Court, which states Title VII of the Civil Rights Act protects LGBTQ employees from workplace discrimination.

In Bostock vs. Clayton County, et al., the court found “(a)n employer who fires an individual for being homosexual or transgender fires that person for traits or actions it would not have questioned in members of a different sex. Sex plays a necessary and undisguisable role in the decision, exactly what Title VII forbids.”

Although this is undoubtably a decisive victory for LGBTQ equality, there is still much work to do. There are still gaps in federal law and a patchwork of protections in state laws, including those covering small businesses.

Because the court narrowly interpreted Title VII as outlawing discrimination because of “sex,” Justice Gorsuch’s opinion for the majority 6-3 opinion suggests that employers could legally fire workers by merely citing their own religious beliefs—a longstanding “loophole” that could deny citizens their basic rights, and the very reason for RFDC’s creation four years ago:

“We are also deeply concerned with preserving the promise of the free exercise of religion enshrined in our Constitution… so while other employers in other cases may raise free exercise arguments that merit careful consideration, none of the employers before us today represent in this Court that compliance with Title VII will infringe their own religious liberties in any way.”

The Alliance Defending Freedom, the legal organization representing the funeral home that fired petitioner Aimee Stephens when she came out as transgender, was quick to denounce the ruling, claiming it poses a threat to their freedoms of conscience, religion, and speech. There is little doubt that they and their allies will ramp up attempts to undermine legal protections by weaponizing RFRA and advancing even more harmful religious exemptions at the state level.

While we wholeheartedly celebrate this victory, we must also plan for the work ahead. This is why the work of the RFDC and our grantee partners is so important. Their efforts to educate the public, expand protections, and change the narrative around exemptions and refusals will be the first line of defense against future backlash.

Formed in 2016, the Rights, Faith & Democracy Collaborative (RFDC) is a donor collaborative that helps to create and fund state-based coalitions of organizers working with allied faith communities at the intersection of LGBTQ equality and reproductive health, rights, and justice, to disrupt the rapid proliferation of religious exemptions and refusals. Simply put, RFDC marshals resources to challenge those who would weaponize religious liberty to deny citizens their basic rights, forging a more inclusive vision of religious freedom.

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