Does Recent Supreme Court Ruling Threaten Religious Liberty?

By Mark A. Kellner | Posted June 23, 2020

In a decision that shocked conservative partisans, the Supreme Court of the United States, on June 15, 2020, ruled 6-3 that Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act protects individuals from sexual orientation or gender identity discrimination.

Writing for the majority, Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch—nominated to the high court in 2017 by President Donald Trump—interpreted the text of the 1964 legislation as such: “An 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.”

The case, Bostock v. Clayton County, incorporated several appeals of lower court rulings on cases involving homosexuals and transgendered individuals and their jobs.

Some, however, have disagreed with Justice Gorsuch’s reasoning, namely his use of the word “sex” in contrast to the intent of the original lawmakers. U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri, in his remarks to the Senate, stated, “There’s only one problem with this piece of legislation. … It did what this Congress has pointedly declined to do for years now, which is to change the text and the meaning and the application and the scope of a historic piece of legislation.”

“By interpreting federal law in a way that was never intended, today’s decision unfortunately impacts the legislative process in a way federal courts typically do not,”  concluded a statement from the North American Division of the Seventh-day Adventist Church , a group long known for supporting religious liberty.

A Dire Scenario?

Of equal concern are the consequences of this ruling, in particular its far-reaching ability to impact religious liberty.

statue of liberty

At issue is what the Supreme Court’s decision neglected to address: whether or not faith-based organizations can put their beliefs into practice in determining who can or cannot work for them. While houses of worship would typically qualify for exemptions to such a ruling, what about “parachurch” agencies in the social services arena or a business owned by an individual of religious conviction?

Writing at The Spectator magazine’s website, commentator John Zmirak noted: “This ruling won’t just protect gay employees who want to teach courses on marriage at Baptist seminaries. (Gorsuch offered no comfort to those with religious liberty fears. ‘They’ll just have to sue and get sued,’ he flippantly wrote.) It will unleash on every employer the ‘diversity machine’ that currently drives ‘sensitivity training,’ de facto hiring quotas, and ‘hostile workplace environment’ suits.”

The Adventist statement brought up other challenges: “Issues surrounding public accommodations such as bathrooms, locker rooms, and other private spaces are yet to be addressed. … In addition, the ability of faith-based institutions to maintain their hiring and conduct standards is now in question and will be the subject of significant litigation.”

Sen. Hawley commented, “This decision, this piece of legislation, will have effects that range from employment law to sports to churches.”

Tony Perkins, who heads the Family Research Council, also expressed his concern, writing in The Washington Times: “The Bostock ruling was a body blow to the movement to restore moral and even biological sanity to American public life.”

While this single case is predicted as having enormous repercussions, it’s quite possible the Supreme Court will narrow the scope of the Bostock decision, and soon: The Court has said it will hear Fulton v. City of Philadelphia, in which several faith-based organizations are seeking the right to serve the public according to their religious beliefs. As the Vox website put it, “The question in Fulton is whether the city loses much of its power to control its own public services when it contracts some of those services to religious entities.”

Where Will This Lead?

There is a middle ground between those wanting to force faith-based groups to act against their conscience and those seeking to preserve their rights. This solution is legislative, not judicial: The Fairness for All Act (H.R. 5331) is a bill that offers employment protection for religious organizations, which would be able to “make hiring decisions that reflect their beliefs,” as well as LGBTQ individuals, who would be secured against “discrimination or harassment in secular employment.” Its objective is the “upholding [of] both religious freedom and human dignity,” according to the Adventist Church, an avid proponent of the bill. Many other religious organizations have also supported this legislation, which remains under consideration by the U.S. House of Representatives.

But while the Fairness for All Act openly “rejects the bitter, polarized approach that has long dominated public discussion about these issues,” could it be that people don’t care as much about fairness anymore as they do about winning? Moreover, do little victories necessarily mean an ultimately positive outcome?

As Pastor Doug Batchelor noted in a sermon titled “Freedom and Liberty,” such actions may provide only momentary relief: “Our freedoms in our constitution are being eroded. Religious liberty is a precious thing we will someday lose. Making more laws to give temporary safety create an illusion of security.”

It is increasingly important to know what the Bible says about religious liberty in the end times, especially as it relates to the United States of America. “ The USA in Bible Prophecy,” our free online Bible study, can help!

Mark Kellner
Mark A. Kellner is a staff writer for Amazing Facts International. He is a veteran journalist whose work has been published in Religion News Service, The Washington Times, and numerous computer magazines.

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