With President Donald Trump in the White House, many conservative Christians may feel a false sense of security. Trump has used the administration to reverse many of Obama’s policies that restricted religious freedom. Trump even launched a religious freedom branch at the Department of Health and Human Services! Even so, the LGBT activist assault on religious freedom continues in many parts of American culture, and it is only likely to go into overdrive if Joe Biden becomes president next year.
Last week, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) filed a lawsuit against the Kroger Company after a grocery store in Little Rock, Ark., fired two Christian women who requested a religious accommodation when required to wear a rainbow-colored heart emblem on an apron. These women claimed that the emblem endorsed LGBTQ values and that wearing it would violate their religious beliefs.
This did not happen in a deep-blue bastion like New York City or Seattle. It didn’t happen in Portland or Los Angeles — it happened in Little Rock, Arkansas.
According to the EEOC lawsuit, the Kroger location “implemented a new dress code, which included an apron depicting a rainbow-colored heart emblem on the bib of the apron. The women believed the emblem endorsed LGBTQ values and that wearing it would violate their religious beliefs.”
The women came forward with proactive solutions. One woman offered to wear the apron with the emblem covered and the other offered to wear a different apron without the emblem. Kroger, however, “made no attempt to accomodate their requests.”
“When the women still refused to wear the apron with the emblem visible, the EEOC charged, Kroger retaliated against them by disciplining and ultimately discharging them.”
The lawsuit claims that this retaliation violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The EEOC first attempted to reach a pre-litigation settlement through a conciliation process, but Kroger apparently refused. The lawsuit seeks monetary relief in the form of back pay and compensatory damages, as well as an injunction against future discrimination.
“Companies have an obligation under Title VII to consider requests for religious accommodations, and it is illegal to terminate employees for requesting an accommodation for their religious beliefs,” Delner-Franklin Thomas, district director of the EEOC’s Memphis District Office (which oversees Ark., Tenn., and parts of Miss.,), said in a statement. “The EEOC protects the rights of the LGBTQ community, but it also protects the rights of religious people.”
This is not some local interest story or tiny news item. The Kroger Company is the largest supermarket by revenue in the U.S. and it is the second-largest general retailer. Last year, Kroger had 453,000 employees. It is no small matter if Kroger forces a political stance on its employees and retaliates against them when they ask for an accommodation.
Why not just wear the pride emblem?
Democrats, LGBT activists, and an increasing number of cultural institutions celebrate the LGBT rainbow flag as a symbol of inclusion. So what’s the big deal? Why can’t these Christians just suck it up and wear the pride emblem?
The problem is, LGBT pride flags represent the antithesis of many things small-o orthodox Christians believe. While Christians need to be sensitive to the fact that people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender have been mistreated in the past, they cannot celebrate LGBT lifestyles. It is possible to treat people with respect while disapproving of their sexual activity or their cross-sex identity.
The Bible is clear that God made humans male and female (Genesis 1:27, Mark 10:6, Matthew 19:4) and that marriage is between one man and one woman (Genesis 2:24). The male-female definition of marriage is not just a lifestyle in the Bible — it is a mystery that prefigures the marriage between God and His church (Ephesians 5:31-32).
Homosexual activity is consistently denounced as sinful (Leviticus 18:22, 20:13; Romans 1:18-32; 1 Corinthians 6:9-10; 1 Timothy 1:8-10). That does not mean that same-sex sexual relationships do not involve love and self-sacrifice, but they also involve sin.
Christians who believe the Bible is the authoritative and inspired Word of God cannot embrace LGBT lifestyles and LGBT pride. The Bible is also clear that they should love LGBT people and preach to them “with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that when you are slandered, those who revile your good name in Christ may be put to shame” (1 Peter 3:15-17).
Tragically, many parts of American society today consider these beliefs bigoted, homophobic, transphobic, or just downright “hateful.” This likely explains why Kroger did not consider accommodation for the Christian women.
The LGBT assault on religious freedom
It may seem ironic to say that LGBT activists are attacking the religious freedom of conservative Christians. After all, aren’t Christians technically the majority of the American population? Didn’t Christians oppress LGBT people for decades if not centuries?
Over the past decade, however, LGBT activists have repeatedly targeted Christians for their beliefs, penalizing them for disagreeing with same-sex marriage or transgender identity.
Bakers like Jack Phillips gladly serve LGBT people, but they refuse to craft wedding cakes to celebrate a same-sex wedding. Florists and photographers have made the same decision.
State governments in the form of civil rights commissions have prosecuted these convictional Christians, claiming that their free-speech refusal to craft art to celebrate an event they disagree with constitutes discrimination. Jack Phillips won his Supreme Court religious freedom case last year, but the commission went after him again, anyway. A man who identifies as transgender tried to force Phillips to bake a cake to celebrate his gender transition. LGBT activists firmly declare that bakers like Phillips are guilty of discrimination.
Animus against conservative Christians has emerged at Google and at Yale Law School. Facebook blocked evangelist Franklin Graham on Christmas week over a two-year-old post about transgender identity. Cities have banned Chick-fil-A from their airports — most recently San Antonio, Texas, and Buffalo, N.Y. — because the owner has donated to Christian organizations that uphold traditional sexual ethics. Conservatives are even finding themselves expelled from the scientific community over LGBT issues.
Yet that’s not the worst of it. The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) has branded conservative Christian nonprofits like Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) and FRC “hate groups” due to their beliefs on marriage and sexuality, listing them along with the Ku Klux Klan. ADF has won nine Supreme Court cases in seven years. A terrorist attempted to kill everyone at FRC, thanks to the SPLC’s “hate map.”
The SPLC also marked the small Catholic charity the Ruth Institute a “hate group,” citing the Catechism of the Catholic Church as a “hate” document.
The SPLC is quite mainstream. Big Tech companies like Amazon use it to screen out “hate groups.” Schools across America receive its “Teaching Tolerance” materials. Democratic senators have cited the SPLC to demonize Trump’s administration and judicial appointees. In once case, Sen. Dianne Feinstein said of Amy Coney Barrett, “The dogma lives loudly” within her so she can’t be trusted. In another, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said that Russell Vought is “really not someone who is what this country is supposed to be about,” because he thinks Muslims do not go to heaven.
But the vitriol against Christians is not limited to this powerful organization. When news broke that Karen Pence, wife of Vice President Mike Pence, had gone back to teaching at a Christian school — that, SHOCKER, holds to the Bible on sexuality issues — outrage ensued, with people declaring, “f**k these homophobes!”
In the book So Many Christians, So Few Lions: Is There Christianophobia in the United States? sociology professors George Yancey and David Williamson painstakingly document the presence of bias against conservative Christians, proving that it is as real as animus against Muslims and Jews. Indeed, Yancey’s most recent research shows that animus against Christians leads some people to support LGBT activism, even when they have a low opinion of LGBT people.
Many Christians have found themselves penalized, investigated, or fired for daring to contradict LGBT pride.
So, when employers ask conservative Christians to wear an emblem celebrating LGBT pride, Christians hear that they must wear the symbol of people who hate them, who want to weaken their constitutional rights, and who fundamentally disagree with their view of the world, celebrating the sin that they think separates people from God. If that’s not a case for religious accommodation, I don’t know what is.
The EEOC was right to file this lawsuit, and this is yet more proof of just how much is at stake in this election. LGBT activists seek to demonize conservative Christians and boot them from polite society, and the Trump administration is standing in their way. I shudder to think about what will happen if Joe Biden removes that restriction.
Tyler O’Neil is the author of Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Follow him on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.