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Employment Discrimination Reforms: Religious Liberties


Federal Law and the laws in many American States do not explicitly prohibit employment discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Therefore, the June 2020 Supreme Court ruling on the Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia and R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes Inc. v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission cases was hailed by the Human Rights Campaign; an LGBTQ lobbyist and advocacy group, as a significant step to the removal of workplace discrimination. However, this ruling raises prevalent concerns regarding the religious liberties and ministerial protection accorded in the First Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, and the Religious Freedoms Restoration Act (RFRA). Various scholars accept that religion and sexuality are two indelible aspects of personal life with which most people define themselves.

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As a result, a passionate discourse has resulted in the interaction between LGBTQ rights and religious liberties. Religion has also been identified as the biggest resistance to LGBTQ rights and the members of society who disapprove of homosexuality or transgender individuals citing their religious condemnation of it. Furthermore, the solicitousness of conservative religious views has led to the exemption of faith-based organizations from non-discrimination policies such as the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA). Through a retrospective qualitative review, this study outlines that the current legislature, as well as landmark court cases and case-laws, do very little to alleviate the murkiness surrounding LGBTQ reforms in the face of religious liberties. Human service professionals, such as HRC, can continue to lobby for non-discriminative employment practices, which may result in better distinction in the legislature and clearer interpretations of the law in this regard.

Findings and Discussions

The dilemma of balancing LGBTQ rights while maintaining conservative religious liberties is very apparent from a political, social, and legislative perspective. The landmark Supreme Court ruling of June 2020, which provided that employment discrimination against LGBTQ individuals was unlawful under Title VII, was divisive in that it was hailed by the HRC and LGBTQ communities as a pivotal step forward, but admonished by religious and faith-based institutions as setting a dangerous precedent. Most people do agree that an individual should not be punished for their religious beliefs, but neither for who they are. Therefore, there arises the need to balance the right to oppose same-sex relationships and marriage, which is a view held by many religious people, with the rights and freedoms of LGBTQ people not to be discriminated against. This section will review the various legal platforms and provisions that have provided the backdrop for the LGBTQ and religious conflict, especially regarding employment practices, and suggest how, and if, a balance may be achieved between the two antagonistic groups.

The First Amendment of the United States Constitution

Religious liberties, ministerial protections, and free speech are inherently protected within the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. This amendment in the constitution prohibits Congress from making laws that prohibit the free exercise of religion. Despite this amendment appearing fairly clear, courts have had differing and widely diverse interpretations of it, often finding it inapplicable in a wide variety of case scenarios and judgments (Riley, 2015). The “free exercise of religion” has been severally outlined as a blanket term that lends to discrimination of various forms under the guise of religious belief.

Furthermore, the church has been and remains to be, notoriously counterculture. This means that most of the beliefs and resultant actions held by conservative religions may be out of touch and discriminative. This is precisely the problem pertaining to LGBTQ employment discrimination cases, whereby faith-based organizations have continually argued the mandate provided under the First Amendment to reserve employment opportunities to people who fit the image prescribed by their religious beliefs.

Landmark Court Cases, Laws, Executive Orders, and Private Sector Policies

Past significant court cases have explored the antagonistic nature of secular and religious beliefs under Title VII and the First Amendment, as well as equal protection rights under the Fourteenth Amendment. However, the diverse rulings have muddled the understanding of these legal tenets and failed to provide a clear precedent for future judicial procedures (Robb, 2019). Court cases have given varying interpretations of the provisions accorded in Federal and State-laws which is exacerbated by the lack of specific and explicit laws that seek to protect LGBTQ individuals’ rights and freedoms in many states and regions.

The most recent Supreme Court ruling of June 2020 has been widely hailed as a significant step towards the elimination of workplace discrimination of LGBTQ individuals. This ruling encompassed the cases of Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia, and the R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes Inc. v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission whereby the Supreme Court decreed that employment discrimination on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation was illegal under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act (). Religious bodies were, however, concerned as this ruling provides an unspoken contravention against their religious liberties concerning employment. Concerns regarding how Title VII interacted with religious liberties had persisted for a long time, but the Supreme Court ruling was seen as an almost definitive interpretation of the matter.

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This Supreme Court ruling, however, is the culmination of years of effort to eliminate employment discrimination on the federal stage by various parties. For instance, several executive orders have been signed by sitting heads of state from Bill Clinton, who decreed that security clearances would be issued regardless of the recipient’s sexual orientation, to Barrack Obama, who included gender identity under the classes protected against discrimination by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) (Reed, 2020). However, the intersection between these LGBTQ freedoms from non-discrimination, and religious liberties have not been sufficiently addressed, and consequently leads to valid concerns and reservations on both sides of the divide.

The interpretation of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) of 1993 only works to exacerbate further the confusion and dissent between religion and LGBTQ activists. The statute explicitly prohibits the federal government from unnecessarily burdening a person’s exercise of religion, unless it is apparent that doing so would further a compelling governmental interest and further represents the least problematic approach to furthering that interest. The RFRA is, in definition, a contradiction to other non-discrimination legislatures, including Title VII and the Employment Nondiscrimination Act (ENDA). The burden of proof towards an RFRA claim is also quite muddled and therefore blurs the extent of the legislation, its efficacy in maintaining religious protections, and its relevancy in the face of increased non-discrimination reforms.


The June 2020 Supreme Court landmark ruling on the Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia and R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes Inc. v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has been hailed by the LGBTQ community and the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) as monumental to the push for non-discriminative employment practices towards transgender and homosexual individuals. However, religious advocates and conservatives posit that the ruling raises, and in fact, exacerbates several unanswered questions and concerns regarding religious liberties and ministerial protections. Unfortunately, case rulings preceding the June 2020 Supreme Court ruling have had widely differing interpretations of non-discriminatory laws and provisions that the nexus between religious liberties and LGBTQ non-discrimination policies in employment is heavily muddled.

This study recommends that the human service professionals, such as the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), continue to lobby and advocate for non-discriminative employment practices to be passed for the benefit of a rapidly expanding LGBTQ community. This would also provide a chance for authoritative reforms and interpretation of existing laws on the extent of religious liberties and ministerial protections. Consequently, appropriate and clear exemptions can be made in law and in interpretation to allow the protection of LGBTQ communities from discrimination, as well as maintaining the integrity of faith-based organizations.

As a qualitative, retrospective study, this research is slightly limited on the fact that the results are findings are narratively interpreted and, therefore, subject to personal bias. However, this limitation has been reasonably minimized by paraphrasing and reporting findings as provided by the source materials. Furthermore, this study was limited primarily to the legislature that pertains to employment practices. Religion, sexual orientation, and gender identity are broad social structures that influence many facets of human life and; therefore, future studies can review legislature and proposed reforms in other domains rather than employment.


Reed, A. (2020). NAFTA 2.0 and LGBTQ employment discrimination. American Business Law Journal, 57(1), 5-44. Web.

Riley, A. (2015). Religious Liberty vs. Discrimination: Striking a balance when business owners refuse service to same-sex couples due to religious beliefs. S. Ill. ULJ, 40, 301. Web.

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Robb, M. G. (2019). Pluralism at work: Rethinking the relationship between religious liberty and LGBTQ rights in the workplace. Harv. CR-CLL Rev., (54)1, 917-948. Web.

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StudyCorgi. "Employment Discrimination Reforms: Religious Liberties." December 30, 2021.


StudyCorgi. 2021. "Employment Discrimination Reforms: Religious Liberties." December 30, 2021.


StudyCorgi. (2021) 'Employment Discrimination Reforms: Religious Liberties'. 30 December.

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