The Department of Justice today told the U.S. Supreme Court that the federal government is reversing course on a pending case. The administration now argues that the federal law barring workplace discrimination does not protect Aimee Stephens, the transgender employee of a Michigan funeral home who was fired when the business cited religious beliefs in conflict with Stephens’ gender identity.
Rachel Laser, president and CEO of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, issued the following statement in response:
“This is a stunning reversal of course. It is unconscionable that the federal government, after supporting Aimee Stephens through five years of court battles, would abandon her on the Supreme Court’s doorstep.
“This is just the latest attempt by the Trump-Pence administration to pander to a narrow group of evangelical Christians who are using religious freedom as a sword to harm others, rather than a shield of protection as the Constitution intended. We will not tolerate this desecration of our nation’s core values.
“Americans United will continue to stand with the transgender community and fight to protect church-state separation, which guarantees religious freedom for all of us, not just a select few.”
The administration today filed a brief with the Supreme Court in Harris Funeral Homes v. EEOC, alerting the court that the federal government would no longer argue that the funeral home had violated Stephens’ civil rights when it fired her – an employee of six years – after she came out as transgender and began living and dressing as a woman in 2013.
The federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission had challenged the business’s discriminatory action through the courts for five years. That resulted in the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in March agreeing that the funeral home had violated Title VII of the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964 and that the funeral home had no right under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) to cite religious beliefs as a basis for firing a transgender employee.
Americans United was joined by 76 faith leaders and 13 religious and civil-rights organizations in filing a friend-of-the-court brief in the case in support of Stephens.
DOJ’s decision today comes on the heels of reports that the Trump-Pence administration is planning to roll back federal protections of transgender people and narrowly define gender.