On the eve of International Women’s Day, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of a man who identifies as a woman, ignoring appeals to religious liberty and declaring that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 applies to those undergoing gender “transitioning.”
Wednesday’s decision marks the third time a federal appeals court has expanded the Title VII definition of “sex” beyond biological manhood and womanhood. Within the last year, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th and 2nd circuits both ruled that “sex” includes sexual orientation. Those decisions, until the U.S. Supreme Court intervenes, stand as law, and employers in 10 states are required to recognize sexual identities as protected classes
The decision puts Christian business owners and parachurch ministries at risk of lawsuits for failure to comply with the new law, said Gary McCaleb, an attorney with the religious liberty law firm Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF).
“They are distorting the law,” McCaleb told me. “[Title VII] has nothing to do with affirming a person’s medical condition.”
After working five years as a funeral director for R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes in Detroit, Mich., Anthony Stephens informed owner Thomas Rost in 2013 he intended to have sex reassignment surgery, which required he live and dress as a woman for a year. Stephens told Rost he would return from his two-week vacation “in appropriate business attire” as Aimee Australia Stephens and requested a clothing stipend to offset the cost of a new wardrobe.
Rost fired Stephens because “he was no longer going to represent himself as a man,” prompting Stephens to file a sex discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in 2014. ADF attorneys successfully defended Rost in federal court last year, but Stephens appealed to the 6th Circuit.
Rost testified he could not “in good conscience” permit Stephens to present himself as a woman to grieving clients. And his convictions about God-designed manhood and womanhood prevented him from paying a clothing stipend to help facilitate Stephens’ transition.
But the 6th Circuit rejected Rost’s appeal to the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
“Even if Rost’s religious exercise were substantially burdened, the EEOC has established that enforcing Title VII is the least restrictive means of furthering the government’s compelling interest in eradicating workplace discrimination against Stephens,” Judge Karen Nelson Moore wrote in the opinion.
If Rost does not appeal, the decision establishing “transgender and transitioning status” as protected classes will stand in Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, and Tennessee.
Judicial review of congressional statutes requires judges interpret laws based on the original meaning of words. Instead, judges are citing precedents to create an ever-expanding definition of sex that has nothing to do with equal opportunity between men and women, McCaleb said.
The rulings empower the EEOC to force employers to affirm their employees’ self-perception instead of their true identity as image-bearers of God.