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
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
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.