Shifting Winds on Title VII’s Extension to Sexual Orientation? Zarda v. Altitude Express and the Trump Administration’s Amicus Brief

The Trump Administration has weighed in as to whether Title VII’s employment discrimination protections extend to sexual orientation claims, with a resounding “No.”  Through its amicus (“friend of the court”) brief in the pending federal appeals case of Zarda v. Altitude Express, the U.S. Department of Justice asserts that employment-related sexual orientation discrimination claims do not fall within Title VII’s purview.  

Supreme Court Reproaches Missouri for Religious Discrimination and Protects Religious Liberty

By a 7-2 majority, the Supreme Court of the United States today reaffirmed that the government may not refuse publicly available benefits to religious institutions on the basis of their religion. In Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Inc. v. Comer, Director, Missouri Department of Natural Resources, the Court held that the State of Missouri violated Trinity Lutheran Church’s First Amendment Free Exercise Rights by denying state grant money for the refurbishing of a playground owned by Trinity—when the denial was explicitly because Trinity is a church. The Court’s decision should have far-reaching implications for other churches and faith-based organizations seeking to use government-provided grant money to advance their charitable efforts.

Religious Schools as “Public Accommodations?”: The Chestnut Hill Student Expulsion Case

When is a private religious college a “public accommodation,” and therefore subject to state anti-discrimination laws requiring access? According to a Pennsylvania ruling this year, religious nonprofits should not presume upon any categorical deference by the government in answering this question, based merely on the organizations’ self-identified religious affiliation. Instead, they should be prepared to demonstrate both how their religious identity removes them from public accommodation status and how such religious identity relates to their actions at issue. Religious schools and other nonprofits thus need not panic based on this adverse public accommodation ruling, but they should definitely take note and check their own readiness for such challenges.

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