“This represents the staggering implications of the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby case,” said Jay Kaplan, a staff attorney with the ACLU’s LGBT Legal Project.
The Supreme Court ruled in 2014 that for-profit businesses were exempt from certain laws, provided their owners held a religious objection to those laws.
“Essentially, the judge has said that the funeral home, even one that is not a particularly religious operation, can be exempted from civil rights law with regard to transgender people,” Kaplan told the Detroit News.
The judge’s ruling noted that the funeral home company’s owner, Thomas Rost, is a devout Christian whose life’s work stems from his religious beliefs, including that shunning one’s biological sex is an affront to God.
“Rost operates the funeral home as a ministry to serve grieving families while they endure some of the most difficult and trying times in their lives,” Cox wrote.
Although there have been several decisions by federal appellate courts, ruling that federal law prohibiting sex discrimination applies to transgender people, this is the first one to address the issue of religious freedom.
A Christian legal group, the Alliance Defending Freedom, represented the funeral home. Spokesman Douglas Wardlow, hailed the ruling in a statement to Reuters: “The feds shouldn’t strong-arm private business owners into violating their religious beliefs, and the court has affirmed that here.”
At press time, it is unclear if EEOC officials will file an appeal. A spokesperson told Reuters: “We are disappointed with the decision and reviewing next steps.”