How a Supreme Court case about a funeral home could affect Christians across the nation
Tom Rost never planned on being pulled into the center of a national debate on sex and gender. But today his case, R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, will be argued in front of the U.S. Supreme Court. Hanging in the balance is the meaning of “sex” in Title VII, the employment provision of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. If “sex” in that law is redefined to mean “gender identity,” that could create a ripple effect where “sex” is redefined in other federal laws, affecting nearly all Americans.
Redefining “sex” would create chaos. And it would present particular challenges for those who hold the basic Christian belief that God creates us male and female.
So, how did Tom get here? All Tom has wanted to do for most of his life is run his family’s Michigan business, Harris Funeral Homes, which is now over 100 years old.
At Harris Funeral Homes, Tom goes above and beyond to meet the needs of the grieving families he serves. He is constantly improving his funeral homes to make sure they are comfortable. He offers a grief counseling program for those who need it. And he even makes a follow-up call to every client to check on them about a month after the funeral.
Everything Tom does ensures that the families he serves can focus on processing their grief. To this end, Tom also wants to make sure his employees are dressed in a way that keeps the focus off them and on the families mourning their loss. That’s why Tom has a sex-specific dress code for all his staff members. This is perfectly legal under federal law and used by many funeral homes.
But in 2013, one of Tom’s male funeral directors announced a plan to begin dressing and presenting as a woman at work while serving grieving families. Tom took time to consider the employee’s plan. He considered the interests of this employee and also those of his female employees who would have to share restroom facilities with this male funeral director. And, as he always does, Tom considered the needs of the grieving families he serves.
After two weeks of deliberating, Tom concluded that he could not agree with the employee’s plan.
Then, the employee went to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, an unelected agency tasked with enforcing Title VII. The EEOC filed a lawsuit against Tom alleging sex discrimination. But Tom was acting in accord with the law. If a female employee had asked to present and dress as a man, Tom would have come to the same conclusion. In other words, he would have treated a similar female employee just like he treated this male employee. That’s not sex discrimination.
But the EEOC tried to use the situation to redefine “sex” in federal law to include “gender identity.” And sadly, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit ruled against Tom and the funeral home—and effectively redefined “sex” in the process.
Now, Tom is at the Supreme Court. And while the federal government has changed its position and now supports Tom, the American Civil Liberties Union is continuing the suit.
If the ACLU prevails, drastic changes could come to many other laws as well. This includes protections for female students under Title IX and conscience protections for healthcare providers under federal law. This means that girls might be forced to compete in sports against boys who identify as female, and that doctors who have a religious conflict with removing healthy body parts as part of an attempt to supposedly change a person’s sex might be forced to violate their faith.
Not only that, a ruling against Tom would allow unelected government officials to revise laws that Congress enacted. This would take power away from the American people, and it would jeopardize our ability to rely on what the law says.
More than that, the Supreme Court’s decision could significantly affect people who wish to live out the Christian belief that God creates us male and female. For example, it could require non-profit women’s shelters to admit men who identify as women and allow them to sleep next to women who have been abused. Or any of us could be forced to refer to a male coworker as a woman if that’s how he identifies, even if we don’t believe that our perceptions about our sex determine who we truly are.
Tom didn’t want to be pulled into this debate about sex and gender. But if the Supreme Court rules against him, we all may be.
Maureen Collins is a web writer for Alliance Defending Freedom (@AllianceDefends), which represents Tom Rost and R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes.