Supreme Court Upholds Workplace LGBTQ Protections
In case you haven’t already heard, the Supreme Court recently ruled, on the basis of Title VII, that discrimination against LGBTQ workers is prohibited.
According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, “Title VII prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex and national origin.”
Some states, like California and New York, already had this ruling in place. However, the Supreme Court passed this ruling for all states.
You may wonder…
- How does this affect your church or nonprofit organization?
- What about religious colleges and camps?
- Are non-ministerial positions affected?
These are valid questions. What we know right now:
- Ministers and clergy are exempt from discrimination disputes that include sexual orientation or transgender issues.
- Religious employers, including colleges and camps, are also exempt. (However, this might change if the Supreme Court overturns the exemption.)
- Religious organizations are exempt, which includes non-ministerial positions.
4 Steps You Can Take to Preserve Your Protections
Although religious employers and organizations are exempt, there are four steps you should take to protect yourself from liability, should they arise.
1. Document Religious Beliefs
Document your religious beliefs regarding human sexuality and marriage in your statement of faith, bylaws, employee handbook, and staff lifestyle/covenant agreements.
Make sure your employees sign these agreements. Discuss these documents with your staff yearly to ensure everyone is on the same page.
When your beliefs are listed, in writing (specifically on human sexuality and marriage), it can be used as documentation to affirm your exemption, if needed.
2. Update Job Descriptions
Create job descriptions that detail the functions of each position in a religious establishment.
Think about how this position (even if it’s non-ministerial) plays a crucial role in the religious function of your organization.
To be safe, include spiritual requirements or your statement of faith in the posting of the description.
3. Be Clear Throughout the Hiring Process
Remain consistent through the hiring process. Be clear about the requirement that candidates align with your statement of faith.
Only accept applications where applicants share the same religious beliefs.
Continue to communicate your religious beliefs throughout the process of the hiring and onboarding process.
4. Consult a Legal Professional
If you’re unsure or just want to ensure all the i’s are dotted and the t’s crossed, consult a legal professional to assess any potential risks.
There are some great law firms that deal specifically with nonprofits and religious organizations. What we provide here does not constitute legal advice. Please read this disclaimer if you have any questions regarding the information here.
Two Recent Rulings That Support Religious Organizations
- Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morrissey-Berru
- James School v. Biel.
In both cases, two teachers at Catholic schools were not offered contract renewals. Both teachers filed discrimination claims in federal district court against their former employers. The court ruled that both schools were protected religious organizations, exempt from anti-discrimination employment laws.
Both teachers appealed to federal circuit court, which reversed the district court’s ruling in one case and denied petition for rehearing, and for rehearing en banc, in the second case.
The Issue at Hand:
Whether the First Amendment’s religion clauses prevent civil courts from adjudicating employment-discrimination claims brought by an employee against their religious employer when the employee carries out important religious functions.
Important news for religious organizations. On July 8, 2020 (during the time of the writing of this post!), the U.S. Supreme Court consolidated both cases and, In Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morrissey-Berru, the justices held that employment discrimination suits by the teachers fired by Catholic elementary schools are barred by the First Amendment’s “ministerial exception.”
What if the exemptions change?
Some of these exemptions might be subject to change. There are still court cases, specifically regarding religious colleges, on whether teachers should be exempt from this ruling or not.
Depending on the outcome of these cases, the exemption on religious colleges might be overturned.
If this does happen, the atmosphere of many religious colleges would change. What might we do then?
A passage in the book of Romans offers us insight:
“Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.” (Romans 13:1–2 NIV)
This passage tells us that we should obey the law of the land, because it has been ordained by God.
But what if the law of the land goes against God’s law?
Does God’s law supersede the law of the land?
The Story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego
King Nebuchadnezzar issues a decree that “everyone who hears the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipe, and all kinds of music, must fall down and worship the image of gold that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up.” (Romans 3:5 NIV)
Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were faithful Jews who followed the ways of the Lord. They refused to worship idols or other gods. Because of their disobedience to King Nebuchadnezzar, they were brought before him to undergo punishment.
To be thrown into a blazing furnace!
King Nebuchadnezzar gave them one more chance to obey him and bow down to the idol.
How did Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego respond?
“King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and He will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if He does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.” (Daniel 3:16-18 NIV)
Because of their unwillingness to bow to the idol, they were tied up and thrown into the furnace.
But the story doesn’t end there.
God rescues the three men of faith and they emerge unharmed.
If the law of the land conflicts with God’s law, we are instructed to follow God’s law.
There have been many points in history where Christians have had to follow God’s law rather than the law of the land. Many martyrs of the faith have demonstrated this. Though no one in any religious organization is likely to face losing their life, we most certainly do run the risk of losing rights, funding, access to resources, and lose our reputation in the broader community.
As the courts and culture continue to shift away from a historic Christian worldview, it may become more difficult to live out our faith. When faced with difficult situations, I find it easiest to revert to loving everyone. We can’t expect those who don’t align with biblical teaching to act as if they do. Be patient. We are called to love others and we should deal with these matters with grace.
That said, I pray you are encouraged and remember to maintain kindness when dealing with controversial topics such as this. We are facing ever-changing tumultuous times in the workplace. Our beliefs are being challenged and many are waning in their strength to support the gospel of Jesus Christ. Stay strong, and always remember that the truth will always remain the same, yesterday, today and tomorrow.
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Mark Griffin is founder and chief consultant at In HIS Name HR LLC, and has over 25 years of HR experience.
Are you or your organization struggling to navigate these tumultuous times? Contact us by e-mail here.