Religious freedom victory for US Christian business

A Christian funeral home owner in America has won an important legal case after a federal judge ruled that he could not be forced to employ a man who wished to dress as a woman.

District judge Sean Cox ruled that the business’ principal owner, Thomas Rost, could not be forced to go against his Christian beliefs about a person’s sex.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) brought the case against the Michigan-based business after it sacked one of its employees for refusing to comply with the company’s sex-specific dress code.

Dress code

Anthony Stephens had complied with the male dress code since he was hired as an undertaker by the funeral home in 2007.

But in July 2013, Stephens informed his employers that he would begin dressing as a woman at work and would now be known as Aimee.

The funeral home said he was free to choose how to dress outside work but was required to follow the same dress policy as other male employees while he was was working.

After Stephens declined to do so, he was dismissed.

God-given gift

Rost said in his submission to the court that allowing a man to dress as a woman in his business would make him “directly involved in supporting the idea that sex is a changeable social construct rather than an immutable, God-given gift”.

His legal team said in court documents: “Rost is a devout Christian who believes that God has called him to minister to these grieving families, and his faith informs the way he operates his business and how he presents his business to the public.”

In his ruling, Judge Cox said that the EEOC – a government agency – had not discussed the possibility of an accommodation with the funeral home owner before bringing its case.

Hobby Lobby

The judge also referred to the Hobby Lobby case, in which the US Supreme Court backed a Christian-run business that wanted to avoid providing health insurance policies covering abortion-inducing drugs.

Rost was represented by Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), a religious liberty organisation.

ADF Legal Counsel Doug Wardlow said after the ruling: “The government must respect the freedom of those who are seeking to serve the grieving and vulnerable. They shouldn’t be forced into violating their deepest convictions.”

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