Texas Judge: Religious Businesses Protected From LGBT Discrimination Claims

Texas Judge: Religious Businesses Protected From LGBT Discrimination Claims man banging gavel (Dreamstime)

By Charlie McCarthy | Wednesday, 03 November 2021 12:12 PM

A federal judge in Texas ruled that businesses with sincerely held religious beliefs can be shielded from LGBT discrimination claims, The Dallas Morning News reported.

The decision carves out exceptions to sexual orientation and gender identity protections previously granted by the U.S. Supreme Court, the Morning News reported.

U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor ruled Sunday that Braidwood Management Inc., a Christian healthcare companies operator in Katy, Texas, can avoid LGBT anti-bias protections under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and the First Amendment, the Morning News reported.

The anti-bias protections stem from 1964 Civil Rights Act Title VII, which says an employer can claim a religious exemption if it can show it is a "religious corporation, association, educational institution, or society."

The judge also said religious nonprofits, such as Bear Creek Bible Church in Keller, Texas, can refuse to hire and can fire LGBT employees under Title VII.

O'Connor’s ruling can be appealed to a federal appellate court.

The Morning News reported that Braidwood and Bear Creek sued the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission following the Supreme Court's 2020 landmark decision in Bostock v. Clayton County, Ga., which held that Title VII applies to LGBT workers.

The Bostock decision failed to define if and how religious businesses could be exempted from such provisions.

"The Supreme Court didn’t decide the issue of the extent to which businesses that are owned by folks with strong religious beliefs might be exempt from that general rule," attorney Scott McElhaney told the Morning News. "This opinion from Judge O’Connor is the first ruling on that issue."

Court filings said Stephen Hotze, a physician and conservative activist who owns Braidwood, doesn't allow employees to engage in "homosexual behavior or gender non-conforming conduct of any sort."

Bear Creek, a nondenominational church, does not recognize same-sex marriage and denies benefits for any employee's same-sex partner, the Morning News said.

O'Connor’s ruling means both Braidwood and Bear Creek can continue their employment practices without fear of LGBT discrimination liability. The judge also decided that policies in the workplace regarding sexual conduct, dress codes, and restrooms don’t violate Title VII.

Although churches have been exempt from Title VII, McElhaney told the Morning News that O’Connor’s decision "will have broader impact is the ruling about religious businesses, those owned by people with strong, sincerely held religious beliefs."