Cultural Issues in the Courts: January 2017 Update

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January 5, 2017

Federal courts disagree over whether federal agencies can redefine “sex” to include sexual orientation and gender identity; religious displays did not fare well in a couple government-related cases.

Gender Identity, Obamacare ― Texas

A federal judge has blocked an ObamaCare rule that would require religious doctors to violate their conscience and medical judgment by performing gender reassignment surgeries and other transgender procedures. The pivotal legal issue is whether federal agencies have the authority ― without the U.S. Congress’s approval ― to redefine terms like “sex” to include gender identity and sexual orientation.

Sexual Orientation, Employment Law ― Pennsylvania

The U.S. employment nondiscrimination law, known as Title VII, protects against, among other things, sex discrimination in the workplace. A federal court in Pennsylvania has ruled that the alleged harassment of an employee based on his sexual orientation constitutes sex discrimination and, therefore, Title VII protections apply. Over the years, Congress has considered and rejected amending Title VII to include sexual orientation, and several federal courts, at the prompting of the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission, have issued rulings, such as this one, which effectively bypass Congress and change the law by judicial fiat.

Gender Identity, Employment Law ― Kentucky

In a case,  similar to the Pennsylvania case discussed above (except it involves the issue of gender identity rather than sexual orientation), a Kentucky federal court has ruled that a female employee who identifies as a man, and was allegedly harassed at work, is covered by Title VII’s protection against sex discrimination, even though Congress has never added gender identity protection to the law.

Religious Freedom, Ten Commandments Display ― New Mexico

A privately funded Ten Commandments monument, approved and placed on the Bloomfield, New Mexico town hall lawn by the City Council, is government speech, not private speech, says the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. As such, the court concludes, a reasonable observer would conclude that it is a government endorsement of religion, which is a violation of the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause.

Religious Freedom, Teacher Classroom Displays ― New York

A school district did not violate the First Amendment rights of a public high school biology teacher when it ordered her to remove religious posters from her classroom, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled.  For more on the complicated rules surrounding teachers’ free speech and religious freedom rights, read here.

© 2017 Focus on the Family.