RFI Action Team Director Addresses Rally at Supreme Court in Support of Religious Employers

On Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in three separate cases that consider whether sexual orientation and gender identity are covered by federal law prohibiting employment discrimination on the basis of sex. In one of these cases, R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes v. EEOC, an employee sued his employer, a faith-based funeral home, when he was dismissed for insisting on dressing and otherwise presenting as a woman. 

RFI’s Islam and Religious Freedom Action Team filed a brief in this case supporting the funeral home. The purpose of the brief, produced in collaboration with two Islamic scholars, was to set forth orthodox Sunni Islam's position about the meaning of sex. Namely, one’s sex is biologically determined upon conception, and if the Court were to interpret “sex” in federal discrimination law to mean “gender identity,” it would impinge on the religious rights of Muslims. 

As the the justices heard oral argument in the Supreme Court, Ismail Royer, Director of RFI’s Islam and Religious Freedom Action Team, spoke below the courthouse steps alongside other speakers at a rally organized by Alliance Defending Freedom, which is representing Harris Funeral Homes in its case. As Royer stepped up to speak, protesters began yelling, blocking the view of the podium, and playing music on loudspeakers.

Royer opened his remarks by appealing to principles of tolerance and respect. He politely asked the protestors to be civil and allow open dialogue. His prepared remarks appear below:

In the name of God, the Most Gracious, Most Merciful.

My name is Ismail Royer and I work at the Religious Freedom Institute, a multi-faith organization that works for religious freedom for everyone. 

We filed a brief in this case to support a family that runs a faith-based business according to the tenets of their Christian faith. Our brief was joined by two Islamic scholars.

This is a case in which there are two competing goods:

First, there is the good of one’s ability to do whatever one pleases, to dress however one pleases.

And, on the other hand, there is the good of the people not only to believe as they wish but also to live their faith in the public square: in their mosques, churches, synagogues, schools, organizations, and businesses.

In this case, the lower court ruled that an employee’s choice to dress as a member of the opposite sex outweighs the right of a family to run its faith-based business in a manner consistent with their religious beliefs. I submit that the court ruled incorrectly.

If the Supreme Court agrees that the word “sex” in Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act is interpreted to mean whatever gender a person chooses to define themselves at a given time, then Muslim, Jewish, Christian or other faith-based schools, organizations, and businesses will be forced to hire those who openly engage on the job in what their employers’ faith deems to be sinful. 

Further, faith-based Muslim schools, organizations, and businesses will be forced to allow men to use bathrooms and locker-rooms alongside Muslim women, violating their religious principle of modesty.

Americans have to find a way to meet in the middle, on the common ground of respecting one another. As an American Muslim, I urge those who insist on dressing and identifying as a member of the opposite sex, as they generally have the right to do in our society, to respect the right of those faith-based employers whose religious beliefs teach that God created us as men and women, to live according to their faiths.

I ask God to heal this country and to let truth and goodness prevail.