Experts Warn of Consequences for LGBTQ Church Workers After Supreme Court Ruling

Patrick Hornbeck

Responses to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision that religious employers have broad exemptions from non-discrimination laws have continued, many of which address the impact this ruling will have on LGBTQ workers. Today’s post includes highlights from longer commentaries with links provided for further reading. To read initial reactions to the Court’s decision, click here.

Patrick Hornbeck, the chair of the theology department at Fordham University, New York, who is also pursuing a law degree there, wrote in The American Prospect about the decision, sayingt:

“Yesterday, the Supreme Court may well have made me a Catholic minister. It wasn’t wholly unexpected, but it still came as a surprise to me— a former Catholic, an Episcopalian, and a gay man whose marriage the Catholic Church views as partaking in ‘intrinsic evil.’ . . .

“The Court’s 7–2 decision thus potentially sweeps into the ministerial category, and thereby exempts from antidiscrimination protections hundreds of thousands of people who likely have never considered themselves ministers. Not just schoolteachers, but nurses in religiously affiliated hospitals and faculty like me at colleges and universities with religious roots. We can now be fired, without recourse to federal law, for traits completely unrelated to religion, including race, sex, age, and disability. . .

“It’s now up to religious employers to refuse to do what the law permits, and up to religious believers to demand that their leaders employ just and inclusive employment policies.”

Leslie Griffin

Leslie Griffin, who holds the William S. Boyd Chair of Law at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, wrote in Verdict that “women lost the ministerial exception case.” But the implications, in not only this employment case, but in the Supreme Court’s damaging rulings on access to contraception and government funding for religious schools, are broad:

“Why should you care? The opinion is a broad statement that religious organizations are not subject to the laws of the states or the United States. In other words, religious employers do not have to obey the antidiscrimination laws. If they violate them, and call the employee a minister, they win. . .

“Imagine. Hundreds of thousands of employees cannot get into court because the elementary schools, universities, hospitals, camps and other religious organizations are protected from being sued for discrimination on the basis of race, gender, sexual orientation, age, disability, and anything else. This case was a big win for religion, and a loss for the women employees.”

Griffin concludes: “In other words, religious freedom is a world of permitted and funded discrimination.”

Fr. Matt Malone

Fr. Matt Malone, S.J., editor in chief of America, affirmed the Supreme Court’s ruling because of its defense of religious liberty, but noted the longstanding Catholic teaching that “what is immoral should not necessarily be illegal and vice versa.” In effect, even though Malone supports a wide religious exemption for the church to fire employees, he does not believe the church should do so, as previous editorials in America have argued.  He explained:

“The U.S. Supreme Court today ruled that religious institutions have a constitutional right to hire and fire for mission. This decision is correct. Church institutions, however, should not exercise that freedom in pursuit of an indiscriminate purging of church employees simply because they hold unorthodox views or have made life choices that do not accord with Catholic teaching. That would be wrong and would be a source of grave scandal for the faithful and for the country we seek to evangelize.”

At Rewire, Lisa Needham writes of a related recent Supreme Court ruling that could impact LGBTQ rights, Espinoza v. Montana, which was about government funding for religious schools. The Court ruled that Blaine Amendments in state laws, which have barred taxpayer dollars from going to religious schools, were unconstitutional. Needham warns of the consequences for LGBTQ people from this ruling, which, like Our Lady of Guadalupe,erases non-discrimination protections:

“The [Espinoza] ruling also tees up other cases in the conservative religious pipeline—like letting religious institutions do whatever they want, even if that directly conflicts with a state’s anti-discrimination laws.

“Take Bethel Ministries v. Salmon, for example. Bethel Christian Academy is a school in Maryland with a statement of nondiscrimination in its handbook—yet the school discriminates based on gender identity and sexual orientation. According to the handbook, the school ‘supports the biblical view of marriage defined as a covenant between one man and one woman, and that God immutably bestows gender upon each person at birth as male or female to reflect his image … faculty, staff, and student conduct is expected to align with this view.’

“Maryland, though, doesn’t demand of its citizens that they let taxpayer dollars support such a bigoted view. That state has a law protecting students—and everyone else—from discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation. Under the Espinoza logic of shoving religious beliefs into the public sphere and making all of us pay for it, Maryland should direct funds from a scholarship program for low-income children to a school that explicitly says it will impose a ‘biblical’ view of marriage and gender on students.

“Under this logic, if a student comes out as LGBTQ or transitions during their time at the school, they could be summarily expelled, regardless of Maryland law. And another private school with a similar rule would be under no obligation to admit that student.”

For Bondings 2.0’s full coverage of the U.S. Supreme Court rulings from this term, which has now concluded, and how they relate to Catholic LGBTQ issues, click here.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, July 11, 2020

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