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The Mormon church recently filed a brief with the U.S. Supreme Court in a case about a transgender boy asking to use his public-school restroom. The church, with co-signers, accuses transgender people of violating God's law of gender and petitions to stop all their statutory federal civil rights in public education, employment and housing because protecting them from harm threatens religious liberty.
Guarding religious freedom is fundamental. But denying civil rights to a misunderstood minority sets a dangerous precedent and actually undermines religious freedom. Denial would further devastate a vulnerable minority disproportionately suffering abuse, hate crimes and murder.
The brief says God requires adherence to "biological" sex. But it doesn't say how that is definitively determined or who decides. How is variance among external and internal genitalia, chromosomes, hormones or secondary sexual characteristics reckoned? What if a person's brain or heart matches one's affirmed, not assigned, sex?
Genesis tells that all are created in God's image, in a male/female duality. Gender appeared after day and night, land and sea. Why must gender be a stark divide when other dualities bear complexities, such as seen at twilight? No contrary scripture is cited while judging an entire minority as failing God's (unstated) gender test as the only possibility.
That judgment shuns related science as though a few Bible verses embody all knowledge of gender. Might such refusal risk error like earlier repression of expanding views of our universe that manifest as far more complex than clergy once deemed?
The church's brief acknowledges intersex people but doesn't say how they fit a belief in two inviolable genders or why variety for them can't extend to others. Why not show humility toward others' complex experiences by not judging, instead trusting that generosity to others will be returned? Why not do unto others as we would like by respecting others' civil rights?
Instead, the church fears "increasing solicitude": societal concern for transgender people "delegitimizes" religion. Protecting a vulnerable minority doesn't delegitimize religion, it's doing what's right. The Great Commandments teach to care more, not less, for those oppressed.
The brief misleads by portraying this case as merely involving a federal agency memo that unilaterally expands civil rights. It ignores case law holding, for example, that sex discrimination can include transgender people, as when fired for being a gender other than listed on one's ID. The brief also pretends that if transgender rights are removed, they have resort to legislatures a false hope in places where minorities suffer most.
The church's arguments similarly resort to unfounded fears like: validating civil rights for transgender students at public schools risks abolishing sex-specific facilities everywhere and will force a genderless society on all. Such myths are dispelled by a simple analysis, missing from the brief, of existing religious exemptions.
The brief describes several religions' beliefs to show moral disapproval. But variation among religions means that true freedom depends on free agency: letting people follow their conscience.
Mormons once suffered as a minority but now wield power. Heaven's power, we're taught, rests on "principles of righteousness": persuasion, long-suffering, gentleness, meekness, love unfeigned, kindness and pure knowledge that edifies "without guile" (D&C 121: 36-42). Yet the church's persecution of transgender souls is unkind.
Wouldn't the Most Merciful and Loving ask us to soften our hearts rather than hurt?
Mormons' religious freedom remains intact even if the court affirms growing consciousness that harming transgender people in the public realm is wrong. True liberty extends to all.
Samuel Wolfe is a civil rights attorney and writer.