Thomas Rost owns R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Home in Michigan. As a Christian, he strives to live his life and run his business in a way that is consistent with his faith – lovingly serving those who are grieving with sensitivity and compassion.
And he does this very well, winning the Preferred Funeral Directors International Parker Award in 2011 for demonstrating exemplary service; his family business, located in Livonia, Michigan, was voted “best hometown funeral home” last year.
One of the ways Thomas ensures that the funeral home and its employees are sensitive to the grieving is by requiring his employees to abide by a sex-specific dress code.
But it’s that dress code that has landed him in court, after a male funeral director informed him that he would no longer be wearing the men’s uniform, but instead he would be wearing the women’s uniform. Because of this, the funeral director was dismissed – and he filed a lawsuit. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit heard the case on Wednesday.
It’s important to note that Thomas did not require this funeral director to wear men’s clothing outside of work. The funeral director only had to comply with the dress code while at work – the same dress code that all the employees were required to follow.
Allowing – and paying for – one of his male employees to dress as the opposite sex on the job would be a violation of his faith. As a Christian, he believes that we are created as male and female. To allow this male employee to dress as a female would contradict this belief and send a message that is contrary to his faith.
Last year, a federal court ruled that Thomas and his funeral home are protected under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, and that he is free to run his business consistently with his faith.
This is a principle that was upheld in the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in the Hobby Lobby case, and it’s a precedent that the federal court acknowledged in this case as well:
Rost sincerely believes that it would be violating God’s commands if he were to permit an employee who was born a biological male to dress in a traditionally female skirt-suit at the funeral home because doing so would support the idea that sex is a changeable social construct rather than an immutable God-given gift. The Supreme Court has directed that it is not this Court’s role to decide whether those ‘religious beliefs are mistaken or insubstantial….’ Instead, this Court’s ‘narrow function’ is to determine if this is ‘an honest conviction’ and, as in Hobby Lobby, there is no dispute that it is.
We must defend the rights of business owners to run their family businesses consistently with their faith. Faith cannot be confined to the four walls of your house or the church, and it cannot be separated from how faithful individuals live their lives – it’s a part of who they are, and it guides everything they do.
To force Thomas to forsake his beliefs in how he operates that business is unthinkable and un-American. We must uphold the right of all to live and work peacefully according to their beliefs.