Two Nonprofit Evangelical Groups File Multiple Lawsuits Claiming That Christian Businesses and Churches May Fire or Not Hire LGBTQ Workers as a Constitutional Right

On Saturday, October 6, 2018, U.S. Pastors Council and Texas Values filed multiple lawsuits in state and federal courts alleging that Christian businesses and churches may fire or not hire LGBTQ workers as a constitutional right. One of the filed lawsuits challenges the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits employers from discriminating against job candidates and workers on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, and national origin.The two other filed suits challenge part of an Austin, TX city ordinance that prohibits employers from discriminating against all the protected classes outlined in the Civil Rights Act of 1964 as well as sexual orientation and gender identity.

U.S. Pastors Council and Texas Values are separate conservative Christian nonprofit evangelical groups. Lawyers for Texas Values wrote in the complaint against the City of Austin that “Texas Values will not hire or retain practicing homosexuals or transgendered people as employees, because their lifestyles are contrary to the biblical, Judeo-Christian understandings of sexuality and gender that Texas Values seeks to promote.” U.S. Pastors Council believes that the exemption for churches in hiring clergy members carved out by the Civil Rights Act of 1964 should be expanded such that churches and Christian-owned businesses cannot be forced to hire LGBTQ workers or to provide benefits to an employee’s same-sex spouse. U.S. Pastors Council’s case is alleged on the basis of the First Amendment and federal law, specifically the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, providing Christian employers the right to discriminate.

The Religious Freedom Restoration Act has been the basis for extending religious protection to Christian-owned businesses. In 2014, the United States Supreme Court in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby ruled that the federal government had a compelling government interest in crafting the Affordable Health Care Act’s contraceptive mandate, but that the government could achieve such a goal without infringing on a business owner’s religious views. The ruling in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby is the first instance in which the United States Supreme Court extended the Religious Freedom Restoration Act’s protections to a for-profit company. Justice Samuel Alito, writing for the majority in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, made clear that “[t]his decision concerns only the contraceptive mandate and should not be understood to. . . provide a shield for employers who might cloak illegal discrimination as a religious practice.” The United States Supreme Court doubled down on this view in its 2018 ruling in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, which was decided based on the Colorado government’s anti-religious bias in handling the case. Justice Kennedy made clear in the majority opinion that religious beliefs cannot justify discrimination against LGBTQ persons.

Additional Reading

Texas evangelical groups are suing for the right to discriminate against LGBTQ workers, Vox (October 11, 2018)

U.S. Pastor Council v. City Of Austin et al

U.S. Pastor Council et al v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission et al