Among its various activities, the CCAR signs on to various briefs filed amicus curiae. The term means “friend of the court.” Amicus briefs are designed to inform a court about relevant facts and law that the parties to the case might not have had reason to focus on. The CCAR signs on to several of these briefs a year, both in the U.S. Supreme Court and in state and lower federal courts. I serve as the amicus coordinator for the Conference.
In the Supreme Court term that just ended, we signed onto a brief in Commerce Dept. v. New York that opposed the effort of the Administration to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census. The Court agreed that this effort was illegal. Of course, not all our briefs convince the courts, but they all get our opinions before them.
The start of the coming Supreme Court term, around Rosh Hashanah, will hear oral arguments on three consolidated cases that deal with employment discrimination against LGBTQ people. The issue that all of them present is whether Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects these employees because such treatment constitutes prohibited sex discrimination.
In Altitude Express, Inc. v. Zarda, a skydiving instructor was fired because of his sexual orientation. In R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes, Inc. v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, a funeral director was fired after she informed her employer that she was transgender. The employer had insisted that she present to the public according to her gender at birth. In Bostock v. Clayton County, a county child welfare services coordinator was terminated when his employer learned that he was gay. Two of the federal appellate courts hearing these cases determined that these firings were prohbited by Title VII; the other held that Title VII didn’t bar the termination. The Supreme Court will resolve this dispute.
I shared the story of each case in order to remind us that court decisions are not just abstract intellectual matters. How the Supreme Court rules will have a major impact in the lives of real people.
We signed onto a brief arguing that LGBTQ discrimination is indeed illegal under Title VII. The URJ, WRJ, and MRJ joined us in this. But this was a very special sort of brief, the kind that an amicus brief should be. It was written specifically for religious organizations and clergy. Denise Eger let members of the Conference who are on the Facebook page know about this brief and gave them an opportunity to sign on as individuals.
The brief explains why several religions, including ours, views equal treatment of LGBTQ individuals as a religious imperative. It refers to actions and positions taken by these religious organizations, including the CCAR and the URJ. It counters arguments made by other faith groups that their religious beliefs in effect require them to discriminate against LGBTQ people. It responds that allowing such discrimination in effect favors those religions at the expense of ours and of others who share our views.
We cannot know how the Court will rule. We can know that we have told it that allowing some to discriminate against LGBTQ people on religious grounds will also constitute discrimination against our way of practicing our religion.
Rabbi Thomas Alpert serves Temple Etz Chaim in Franklin, MA.
Read more about the brief on the CCAR’s website.