August 20, 2016
Spicy Satire for Traumatic Times
‘GET THAT SINNER’S BODY OUT OF MY EMBALMING ROOM!’
In a decision recalling the 2014 Hobby Lobby case, the Supreme Court today ruled that a funeral home in Ohio was well within its rights to refuse to embalm or conduct services for a transgender former employee it had terminated several years ago.
Jessica Phillips, 48, was dismissed by Hitchock Funeral Homes owners James A. Hitchcock and his wife Sarah in 2009 after informing her employers she was transitioning to a female from her male identity as Jason Phillips and would no longer wear the suit and tie required of male funeral directors in the company’s dress code.
A year later, the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission sued the funeral homes on her behalf, and, as it wound its way through the legal system, the defendants shifted their argument from the dress code to the Hobby Lobby case, in which the high court ruled that businesses have a right to their own religious beliefs and could use them to defy certain federal laws—in that instance, the Affordable Care Act’s mandate that employers provide birth control coverage as part of their employees’ health insurance coverage.
In the Phillips case, the Hitchcocks argued that the Hobby Lobby decision set a precedent for them to deny service based on their “profound religious convictions” that the “Bible teaches that a person’s sex … is an immutable God-given gift and that it is wrong for a person to deny his or her God-given sex.”
The defendants argued further that they were “re-traumatized” by being asked to prepare Phillips’ corpse for burial and conduct a funeral service for her in their establishment.
Justice Samuel Alito
“Get that sinner’s body out of my embalming room,” James Hitchcock told police after Phillips’ husband, Michael Braxton, tried to pay for the funeral arrangements with the Hitchcocks, who own the only mortuary in the small town of Glendale.
Justice Samuel Alito, who wrote in the Hobby Lobby case that the decision provided “no such shield” to business owners in future proceedings, said in an assent to the 5-4 ruling, “If this Court did not exonerate the defendants they would be directly involved in supporting the idea that sex is a changeable social construct rather than an immutable God-given gift.”