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US judge says funeral home had religious right to fire transgender worker

Supporters of gay marriage wave the rainbow flag
Supporters of gay marriage wave the rainbow flag after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on June 26, 2015, that the U.S. Constitution provides same-sex couples the right to marry. The court ruled 5-4 that the Constitution's guarantees of due process and equal protection under the law mean that states cannot ban same-sex marriages. Photo courtesy of Reuters/Joshua Roberts

(Reuters) A federal judge ruled on Thursday (Aug. 18) that a Detroit funeral home that “operates as a ministry” was exempt from a law protecting transgender employees because of its owner’s Christian beliefs.

U.S. District Judge Sean Cox dismissed a 2014 lawsuit by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that said RG & GR Harris Funeral Homes unlawfully fired funeral director Aimee Stephens when she told her bosses she would transition from male to female. It was one of the agency’s first lawsuits on behalf of a transgender worker.

After milestone achievements in gay rights, including same-sex marriage becoming legal nationwide in 2015, transgender rights have become an increasingly contentious issue in the United States.

The EEOC said Harris violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of gender stereotyping. Harris said it had a religious right to fire Stephens and that she was also biologically male and violated a dress code requiring men to wear suits.

Cox agreed on Thursday with Harris on both points. The company’s owner, Thomas Rost, is a devout Christian whose life’s work stems from his religious beliefs, including that shunning one’s biological sex is an affront to God, the judge wrote.

“Rost operates the funeral home as a ministry to serve grieving families while they endure some of the most difficult and trying times in their lives,” Cox wrote.

An EEOC spokeswoman said: “We are disappointed with the decision and reviewing next steps.”

Douglas Wardlow of the Alliance Defending Freedom, a Christian legal group representing the funeral home, applauded the ruling, saying in a statement: “The feds shouldn’t strong-arm private business owners into violating their religious beliefs, and the court has affirmed that here.”

Cox based his ruling largely on a 2014 U.S. Supreme Court decision that granted craft-store chain Hobby Lobby a religious exemption from providing employees with insurance coverage for contraception. But Justice Samuel Alito, writing for the court in that case, said the ruling did not necessarily apply to cases involving discrimination.

Several U.S. appeals courts have held that federal law prohibiting gender bias applies to transgender people, but none have addressed the issue of religious freedom in those cases.

Jillian Weiss, executive director of the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund, which was not involved in the funeral home case, said that under Cox’s decision “people could be forced to conform to outmoded masculine and feminine stereotypes in order to keep their jobs.”

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  • Now, the owner should show Jesus’ love to the person, help them to see their errors and get their life straightened out. That person still needs Jesus’ love.

  • Nor read the Hobby Lobby Case beyond what was necessary for rejecting the case. Even Justice Alito stated in big bold letters, “DO NOT USE THIS CASE FOR DISCRIMINATION ISSUES”

    This one is going to get overturned on appeal.

  • He did, by firing the worker. That is your version Christian love in its plainest form. Attack people and their livelihoods in the name of Jesus and claim you are doing it out of “love”.

  • Maybe it will, but in the meantime that Christian funeral home is going to get a lot of support for not bowing and kowtowing to the Gay Goliath and its cousin, Gender Identity Disorder.
    This judge did the right thing for all sides.

    Not trying to be mean-spirited and such, but that former employee needs to stop trying to use their own GID to force a Christian business to violate its beliefs in God’s exclusive two-gender design for humans. LGBT activism is not justice — it’s just a bunch of MESS.

    “Aimee” needs to get his issues resolved — and do it without destroying his employer’s Christian business.

  • If a Christian can’t fire GLBT people from their job, then what’s the point of them being a Christian? I’m sure that Mr. Rost will be in church on Sunday and singing praises to Jesus that he got to fire someone to show what a wonderful follower of Christ he is. Just think – he got to deny someone their livelihood – what could be more Christ-honoring than that?

    The cruelty and heartlessness that Christians visit on GLBT people will someday come back on them. Karma baby. Karma.

  • Religious rights vs Transgender rights….both turn the “god of fortresses” FREEDOM to protect their way of life. This FREEDOM also proclaims it right for each to worship any “own god”. But Christ said to worship ONLY His Father. Man worship FREEDOM so as to exalt & magnify oneself (XES). Very soon, Lord Jesus, Son of the 1GOD, will rule earth as ONLY KING…which means man’s FREEDOM will be no more.

  • Overturn on appeal is likely. I’m wondering where the next “advance” in civil liberties will lie. While sympathetic to the point of view of the funeral home’s owner in the long run, in the short run the termination seems excessive. I view it as a missed opportunity to engage the dismissed employee in an deep conversation about the decision to change gender identity.

  • “Thomas Rost, is a devout Christian whose life’s work stems from his religious beliefs, including that shunning one’s biological sex is an affront to God, the judge wrote.”

    So?
    Then Rost should be sure to not be transgender. Problem solved.

  • Mr. Silva, what could this ignorant man possibly say to someone who knows far more about the subject than he could ever know? What could he say to his employee that the employee– like just about any gay or trans person anywhere and anywhen– hasn’t been hearing for the entirety of their lives?

    One thing that truly irritates me is when a person who is not gay, and clearly knows no gay person ort anything about the subject, presumes to tell me all about my life. These people have nothing to say to me. Mr. rost would have served himself and his employee far better if he had been the one doing the listening.

  • Well, goody. Until Jesus makes your promised appearance, let us then go with actual freedom.

  • My point was that had Mr. Rost engaged the employee in a sincere and deeply ranging discourse, he might have discovered in the event an opportunity to reframe his thought at least with respect to the question of further employment. You and I certainly had a disagreeable series of exchanges at the outset, but while neither of us has moved substantially in our point of view we have learned to disagree without being disagreeable. While a natural cynic at heart, which explains my rather jaded view of humanity, I still harbor hopes for what can come from honest and open one to one exchange. Sometimes it pans out, sometimes it doesn’t…I think it’s worth the effort.

  • I agree with you 100% on this. Communication is always better.

    One of the problems which we as gay and trans people face is that some people are simply not willing to listen, but willing Only to tell us what is wrong with us and what we need to do to fix it, or as they so often like to put it, “to get right with God.” It’s not a viewpoint that has much to do with gay people, but a lot to do with those who claim it.

    I do appreciate that we can present our viewpoints to each other without rancor. Though we often disagree, I have no sense from you that you come from a place of wishing harm, dominionism, hypocrisy, or self righteousness. That’s what I appreciate about you.

  • You have a flawed definition of love. “Love” never meant calling a disorder a “right” or something “normal”, or “a matter of taste”, or “just different”. Love never meant living and working with people who openly defies sanity and normality. Love never meant to hire, for example, a blind man as a pilot, just because he said he will be unhappy if he will not be a pilot. To love someone with a mental disorder doesn’t mean to let him “be himself’ and accept everything he does. In that case, love means to help him get medical treatment. Your version of love it’s just a lie based on nothing, that will lead to the corruption of what is left of the moral compass, to insanity and destruction. Your version of love is just meaningless ilusion.

  • How do you know he didn’t do that? Have you ever tried to help a homosexual or a transsexual “see their errors and get their life straightened”? Did you see how violent they react? Did you see how their so called “tolerance” suddenly dissappear? He has all the love of Jesus, but there still is the free will and he rejects Jesus’ love by his actions. If my child asks me to buy him drugs, if I truly love him, I won’t buy him drugs. Maybe he’ll think I don’t love him, because he is unwise and doesn’t see the big picture and the truth. But in reality, I love him, not the person who satisfies his unhealthy wishes.

  • Well, until we’ll see intelligence appearing out of nothing, by accident, and chimps becoming humans, let us stick with the freedom derived from Christian principles. It’s the one the western society evolved on. It’s the only one that worked. If you don’t believe me, try to find a country that has been atheist for at least 100 years and relocate there.

  • I don’t think you want to talk to a gay man about he freedom derived from Christian principles– or a black man, or a Jewish man, or a woman, or a witch, or anyone else who has been on the receiving end of Christian principles.

    We have a secular democracy. So thanks, I think I’ll stay here.

    As for chimps becoming human– you obviously have no knowledge or understanding of biology. It’s not my job to educate you.

  • No Christians looking for excused to act badly have a flawed defined of love. Actions which are objectively indistinguishable from malice and hate are allegedly out of a twisted version of love.

    It’s all BS. Just nonsense you tell the public to feel better about actions which are completely unacceptable under any context and intentions which are entirely harmful.

    You would do things to others which you would never want visited upon yourself. You would say things to others which if you were told, would be considered demeaning and hateful.

    Your version of love is absent of respect or actual love. You just want license to intrude and trespass upon lives of others inanity inappropriate manner. Being Christian means never taking responsibility for actions towards others.

  • You attack someone out of a twisted hatred of what they are and then complain that they react badly? What kind of sociopathic piece of garbage are you?

    You are being dishonest in the most obvious way. You wHy to demean gays and assert some mind of self styled righteous superiority over them. That is not love or concern. That is just bigotry form someone too spineless to own up to their hostility.

    Calling it anything in relation to Jesus and his teachings is repugnant garbage. You chose that belief, own it.don’t blame god or Jesus for why you feel the need to act like such a turd.

  • Being called “ignorant” by someone who is confused about sexuality and can’t tell the difference between a man and a woman, is pretty ridiculous. Same with pretending that being gay or transsexual makes you an expert, wiser than anybody who is not like you. Why sick people go to a doctor, since they know their disease so well themselves and the doctor doesn’t have that disease? What you think you know is not objective. You want to be listen, but you never listen. You assume the position that you know everything and anybody normal is “ignorant”. I guess it’s part of “gay pride”. What’s to be proud of, I don’t understand. I must be ignorant, too.

  • Sure, Christians must comply with so many things, but you MUST be allowed to do anything you want, right? You don’t have to comply with any standard, you think the whole world must be forced to change to accommodate your disorder without saying anything and you must be “free” to do anything you want. Anyone who doesn’t agree with all the aberrations you come with, is “cruel” and “heartless”. People are fired and bankrupted with fines because they don’t agree with gay weddings or don’t want to participate to such “weddings”, and THEY are heartless. You are mindless.
    Mr. Harris didn’t “deny someone their livelihood”. If the employee wanted to keep his job, he knew he should comply to the job description. Simple.

  • My point is that no matter how much we may disagree on the question of human sexuality, or any other question, particularly spiritual, moral, and ethical ones, it is important to do it with a degree of civility. My perspective tends to be conservative, evangelistic, and traditional, but I don’t want to engender disharmony or anger in the declaration of my beliefs and opinions.

  • Thank you for showing us the reality of your true “love” and “tolerance”. I didn’t attack anyone. Talking about attacks, my comment was not directed to you, in the first place. If you chose to respond, at least try to address to what I said. Preferably LOGICALLY. Calling me names doesn’t stand for an argument. Your comment isn’t an “attack out of twisted hatred of what I am”? Dear hypocrite?

    As I said, any disagreement with a gay, based on his BEHAVIOR, not on “what he is”, is automatically considered an “attack based on hatred”. Thanks for proving me right.

  • I’m sure you believe that all of that.

    “As if gay men, black men, Jewish men, women, witches or anyone else are flawless saints who re entitled to claim a higher moral ground. ” No one said that, except you.

    “That’s the reason Western civilization evolved so much and conquered the world.” I’m sure you don’t see the inherent contradiction between the two statements. So did rome, so did Persia, so did mohammed, so did Genghis Khan.

    “Otherwise all laws and principles of right and wrong would be just subjective opinions with zero objective value and you have no basis to judge Christians or anyone else.” standard faith based religious claptrap. Prove there is a ogd, prove the Christian god is the real god, and then you might have some “objectivity.”

    ‘In reality you don’t care about right, wrong, love, tolerance, democracy etc. You just care about a way and a system who will accommodate your vices.” Slander.

    “So spare us of your ignorant hypocrisy and educate yourself.”
    Find a mirror, dear.

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