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Religious Liberties in the Face of Employment Discrimination Reforms

The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) is arguably the largest Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer (LGBTQ) advocacy group and political lobbyist organization within the United States. HRC primarily focuses on protecting and spearheading the civil and human rights of LGBTQ individuals within the United States. Their policies notably include prescribing the development of anti-discrimination and hate crimes legislation, marriage equality for same-sex or queer couples, and HIV/AIDS awareness and advocacy. In addition to lobbying and championing for LGBTQ individuals, the entity also provides resources for this subset of the American population.

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In essence, the HRC is a conglomerate, comprising two unique not-for-profit organizations, and a political action committee. The organization focuses on mobilizing grassroots support and action among its members for the promotion of LGBTQ rights and freedoms. However, the HRC also lobbies for LGBTQ bills in Congress, State, and Local Official offices and even supports or opposes political candidates based on their LGBTQ reform platforms.

In 2005, the HRC launched a program dubbed the Religion and Faith Program. This endeavor was meant to help mobilize clergy and other religious leaders to advocate for LGBTQ people, endorse same-sex marriages, and give religious LGBTQ individuals a platform to voice their concerns against a religious backdrop (Human Rights Campaign, n.d. b). The greatest achievement of the Religion and Faith Program is, arguably, successfully lobbying for the legalization of same-sex marriages in the District of Columbia (Human Rights Campaign, n.d. b). Religion has been historically against LGBTQ populations, and the development of this program was a significant step towards the unification of these two domains.

However, regardless of the continued awareness and acceptance of LGBTQ rights and freedoms, discrimination persists in some parts of society. A pressing cause of concern for LGBTQ populations, and by extension, HRC is the presence of employment discrimination. Notably, there is no federal law that consistently and explicitly protects LGBTQ individuals from discrimination based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. Further, there are no state-implemented laws in 30 different states that prohibit this form of employment discrimination. Several groups see the implementation of proposed employment legislation as having far-reaching and often deleterious implications for personal liberties. The most vocal and notable among groups opposed to HRC-promoted employment reforms are conservative Christian groups.

Background Information

Despite various independent authorities knowing that an individual’s gender identity and sexual orientation do not correlate with workplace performance, a large body of research exists documenting high levels of discrimination levied against LGBTQ individuals in the workplace. Employment discrimination against lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgender people, and queers has adverse repercussions on individuals’ health, job opportunities, productivity, and wages and remunerations (Mallory et al., 2017; Pink‐Harper et al., 2017). However, despite the documented cases of employment discrimination and widespread lobbying against the practice, there exists little to no legislative infrastructure for protection against it.

However, a landmark ruling by the Supreme Court on June 15, 2020, marked a significant milestone towards the realization of an employment landscape free of discrimination against LGBTQ communities (Bibi, 2020). The ruling affirmed that gender identity and sexual orientation discrimination were unconstitutional under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. This ruling determined that discrimination on these grounds was a form of sex discrimination, and was, therefore, unlawful under the Civil Rights Act (Bibi, 2020). The court recognized that when an LGBTQ individual was discriminated against or treated unfairly based on personal prejudices, discomfort, or disapproval, and solely based on their sexual orientation or gender identity, that action constituted discrimination based on sex.

This landmark ruling also comes amid a tumultuous time worldwide due to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and racially instigated violence. Unemployment rates are high, with the prospects of securing a new job being dismally low. The HRC reports that 17 percent of LGBTQ individuals, with a corresponding 22 percent of LGBTQ people of color, had become recently unemployed due to reasons citing the COVID-19 pandemic (Human Rights Campaign, 2020). Furthermore, approximately 33 percent of LGBTQ people and 38 percent of LGBTQ people of color had their wage hours reduced, or their remunerations were significantly and adversely influenced on the same grounds (Human Rights Campaign, 2020). There is a further projected 5 million LGBTQ individuals currently working in industries with a high probability of being drastically affected by the pandemic (Human Rights Campaign, 2020). These bleak projections also come amid severe protests and unrest following cases of racial violence within the country.

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However, specific influential and conservative groups find the Supreme Court Ruling and a multitude of HRC-proposed bills to have seismic implications on how private groups operate their institutions. Most notable among these groups are faith-based organizations, including schools and not-for-profit organizations, which have had federal exemptions from Title VII of the Civil Rights Act to reserve their employment practices to individuals of their faith, and to those who conform to the doctrines attached to that faith (Redden, 2020). As such, the landmark Supreme Court ruling is seen as an undisguisable contradiction to these federal exemptions and encroachment on religious liberties.

Problem Statement

The Human Rights Campaign, since its inception in 1980, has been an outspoken non-profit organization concerned with the rights and freedoms of LGBTQ communities worldwide, and, particularly, in the United States. Chief among the issues under consideration is the problem of LGBTQ employment discrimination. This entails any form of unfair treatment of an individual, which may include undue discomfort, termination of employment, or unjust working conditions solely based on the fact of their sexual orientation or gender identity (Human Rights Campaign, n.d.a). However, most of the policies and legislative reforms proposed by this organization have faced significant hurdles or explicit backlash from legal federal, and state infrastructure in place, as well as from influential conservative groups.

Faith-based organizations, in particular, are especially opposed to most of the employment reforms proposed and lobbied for by HRC. These organizations, which comprise churches, schools, and non-profit organizations, have had exemptions provided under religious liberties to practice their own employment rules. They insist that an assumption held by most of secular America is wrong in that Roman Catholicism and Evangelicals are expected to morph and conform to popular culture changes (Redden, 2020). These organizations state that traditional Christian ethic is countercultural and the policies proposed by HRC are counterintuitive towards their practices, lend them vulnerable to countersuits, and strip their protection in federal and state laws.

There is also a further concern and heated opposition to the removal of LGBTQ employment discrimination and, by default, the HRC-led policies from these conservative groups following the landmark Supreme Court ruling. This is seen as the start of a snowball effect to repeal constitutional protection of religious organizations including the First Amendment, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993, and, most significantly, the ministerial exception to employment discrimination laws accorded in the 2012 Supreme Court ruling (Redden, 2020). The HRC intends to disband these religious protections and infringe upon the religious liberties enjoyed by numerous faith-based organizations.

This study will, therefore, seek to review the impact of the removal of LGBTQ employment discrimination, and the extent to which these implemented policies encroach on existing religious liberties. The research will review existing ministerial protections and how they interact with significant rulings empowering LGBTQ rights and freedoms in the workplace. Consequently, it will seek to understand if the religious opposition to HRC-proposed legislation changes is founded, and will ideally identify compromises that could be implemented to protect all involved stakeholders in this scenario.

Research Question and Hypotheses

The primary objective of the study is to review the extent to which recent judicial rulings and proposed policies from the HRC impact religious liberties enjoyed by faith-based organizations in their employment practices. To achieve this objective, the following specific aims are formulated:

  1. To investigate the effects of the landmark Supreme Court ruling of June 2020 on religious liberties;
  2. To review the impact of ministerial protections on the employment of LGBTQ representatives;
  3. To assess the impact of proposed HRC policies and bills on the integrity of religious liberties.

The following research questions are, therefore, developed to guide the assessment of the research problem and actualize the specific objectives:

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  1. What is the impact of the landmark Supreme Court ruling on religious liberties enjoyed in employment practices?
  2. To what extent do these ministerial protections affect the employment of LGBTQ representatives?
  3. What are the projected impacts of the bills and policies proposed and lobbied for by the HRC on the integrity of employment-based on religious liberties?

However, since the study will take a descriptive approach to the attainment of the research objectives, there will be no prior hypotheses to be tested.

Utility of Study

This study will be significant in the contribution to the body of knowledge regarding LGBTQ employment discrimination, employment legislative reforms, and the sustenance of religious liberties by faith-based organizations. Most of the developments in the judicial and legislative domains regarding LGBTQ people are quite recent and, therefore, do not have sufficient coverage in scholarly literature and research works. This study will also highlight viable avenues based on an extensive review of existing literature on how to promote and lobby for the promotion of LGBTQ employment rights and freedoms while not significantly encroaching on faith-based organizations’ religious liberties.


Bibi, E. (2020). Human Rights Campaign: Supreme Court is on right side of history for LGBTQ rights. Human Rights Campaign. Web.

Human Rights Campaign. (2020). The impact of COVID-19 on LGBTQ communities of color. Web.

Human Rights Campaign. (n.d.a) HRC story. Web.

Human Rights Campaign. (n.d.b) Explore: Religion & faith. Human Rights Campaign. Web.

Mallory, C., Sears, B., Wright, E. R., & Conron, K. J. (2017). The economic impact of stigma and discrimination against LGBT people in Georgia. Williams Institute, UCLA School of Law.

Pink‐Harper, S. A., Davis, R. S., & Burnside, R. (2017). “Justice for all”: An examination of self‐identified LGBT job satisfaction in the US federal workforce. Canadian Journal of Administrative Sciences/Revue Canadienne des Sciences de l’Administration, 34(2), 182-197.

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Redden, E. (2020). Religious colleges see conflict between Supreme Court ruling on LGBTQ rights and their religious liberty. Inside Higher ED. Web.

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