Bostock and Wile Coyote

The most important thing to know about Bostock is that it demonstrates the pillars of Western society no longer have anything anchoring them to reality. When your way of interpreting the world isn’t tied to a real, concrete revelation that explains reality, then you slowly drift away from the shore into madness.

Think of revelation as the eyeglasses that allow you to see the world and understand it. Now, think of the shoreline as reality. Then, think of that line holding your boat fast to the dock as the lifeline that connects you to reality.

In the West, we have cut the line and smashed the eyeglasses. We’re drifting away from the shore. At first, our boat bobbed aimlessly pretty close to the dock. That went on for several decades. But, we’ve now edged ever further away and the current has us. The dock is gone. The shoreline is gone.

We’re in the open sea. We’re done.

That’s what Bostock shows us. This Court decision is that last speck of land fading from sight as the horizon flattens into nothingness. It’s when we realize that this is really happening. We really are alone.

Let me explain.

You’ll recall, from the last article, that Bostock’s attorney at oral arguments made the case that Title VII includes discrimination “because of … sexual orientation” because Clayton County, by terminating Bostock allegedly because he was a homosexual, was penalizing him for not fulfilling stereotypes about what it means to be a man.

Justice Ginsburg knows the framers of Title VII did not understand “sex” to include “sexual orientation.”

Ms. Karlan -Ms. Karlan, how do you answer the argument that back in 1964, this could not have been in Congress’s mind because in –in many states male same-sex relations was a criminal offense; the American Psychiatric Association labeled homosexuality a –a mental illness?

Transcript of oral arguments; 6:13-19

Bostock’s attorney, Pamela Karlan (“Attorney Karlan”), pivoted to precedent; particularly Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins (see the last article for context). The Court has already expanded “sex” to include sexual harassment. It’s also expanded it to include discrimination for failure to live up to stereotypes about sex (Oral arguments; 6:20 – 7:10). This is what happened to Bostock, Attorney Kaplan says.

She goes further, too. She declares:

Title VII was intended to make sure that men were not disadvantaged relative to women and women were not disadvantaged relative to men.

Oral arguments; 7:21-24

She frames it this way on purpose. Now, quick as you please, she makes application to her client:

And when you tell two employees who come in, both of whom tell you they married their partner Bill last weekend, when you fire the male employee who married Bill and you give the female employee who married Bill a couple of days off so she can celebrate the joyous event, that’s discrimination because of sex.

Oral arguments, 7:25 – 8:6

Attorney Karlan wants to make Bostock about stereotypes. As I mentioned in the previous article, her argument goes like this:

  1. Men must only have sex with women.
  2. But, Bostock wants to have sex with men.
  3. This means Bostock fails to act like a man.
  4. Clayton County fired Bostock because he wasn’t acting like a man.
  5. So, Clayton County discriminated against Bostock because of sex; because he wasn’t acting as the County felt a man should act.

She’s only asking the Court, she claims, to make one more analogous extension of principle to read “sexual orientation” into “sex” in Title VII. However, as I explained in the previous article, words have meanings and discrimination “because of … sex” and “because of … sexual orientation” are completely different things.

But, even if we grant Attorney Karlan’s argument, we’re immediately confronted with a problem. With several problems:

  1. Who decides what a “stereotype” is?
  2. Who decides what is socially acceptable and what isn’t?
  3. And, if you don’t acknowledge an authority, a standard, a revelation that stands above our society, above our own personal preferences and opinions, then how can you possibly answer this question?

Attorney Karlan can’t answer that question. The Court asks her repeatedly. She can’t muster a coherent answer. She retreats to social customs. For example, people call her “Ms.” and assume her gender, “[b]ut that’s not discriminatory because neither of us has been subjected to a disadvantage,” (Oral arguments, 12:23-24). The key, she asserts, is that the victim must suffer an “injury,” (Oral arguments, 13:2-5).

But, who gets to determine whether an “injury” occurred? By whose standard? By the victim’s? Or, is there something objective, something concrete, something tangible that tells us what an “injury” is, so we don’t drown in subjectivism and hurt feelings?

Justice Gorsuch sees the conundrum, and asks her about it (Oral arguments, 13:12-15). Attorney Karlan again fails to answer. She explains, by way of example, that people “know” what is normal and what isn’t:

MS. KARLAN: So there’s no categorical rule about these. For example, the fact that all of the men sitting at counsel table knew that they had to wear ties today and I was free not to didn’t cause an injury. On the other hand, even the dissenters in the Second Circuit said, if the Court said women who come to argue should argue in Hooters outfits and the men should wear —


MS. KARLAN: — ties —

JUSTICE GORSUCH: — we’re not – we’re not — I mean —

MS. KARLAN: I know.

JUSTICE GORSUCH: —we can talk absurd examples —

MS. KARLAN: No, but I can —

JUSTICE GORSUCH: —or we can talk real world examples.

Oral arguments, 13:16 – 14:9

Justice Gorsuch, who appears exasperated at this point by Attorney Karlan’s deliberately absurd strawman, gets to right to it:

JUSTICE GORSUCH: All right. What I’m –what I’m suggesting, counsel, is that there are male and female bathrooms, there are dress codes that are otherwise innocuous, right, most –most people would find them innocuous.

But the affected communities will not. And they will find harm. And how does your test deal with that one way or the other? That’s what I’m asking you to address, if you’d like to.

Oral arguments, 15:4-13. Emphasis added.

He gets it. How does Attorney Karlan avoid subjectivism? Where is the concrete test for “injury” in order to determine whether discrimination happened? Without it, you just have one person saying another person hurt his feelings! And, by what standard can we say, “No, that’s not good enough?”

Attorney Karlan has no answer. To be fair, no answer is possible.

MS. KARLAN: Yes. My test says that you have treated the people differently because of sex, which is what we are asking you to hold here. When you treat a gay man who wants to date a woman differently than a man –woman who wants to date a woman, that –that’s discrimination.

Oral arguments, 15:14-20

Yes, but who says the discrimination happened? How do you figure out whether what the stereotype is and whether the victim was fired for not living up to it? Is there some book, manual or pamphlet; some something that tells us what men and women are? What “sex” is?

Karlan then retreats behind the “reasonable person” concept and founders on the reef under Justice Gorsuch’s questions:

MS. KARLAN: Then you get to what I’ve said, which is you have to ask whether a reasonable person under these circumstances would be injured by the imposition of the particular sex-specific world. So when the Chief Justice calls me Ms., I am not injured. When I go to a –when I —

JUSTICE GORSUCH: You are not, but another —

MS. KARLAN: It –it —

JUSTICE GORSUCH: —person might be —

MS. KARLAN: Right. And the question —

JUSTICE GORSUCH: Are they reasonable or not? And –and I’m –I’m –I’m just -I’m wondering, how do you decide those cases?

MS. KARLAN: An idiosyncratic preference does not void an otherwise valid dress code or bathroom rule.

Oral arguments, 15:21 – 16:13

This is amazing. She doesn’t see it. Do you see it? Read it again.

How do you determine whether a “reasonable person” would be injured by the actions of the employer? By whose standard? What’s reasonable to one person might be pretty unreasonable to another. Attorney Karlan waves her hands and claims an “idiosyncratic preference” has no merit.

Again, who determine what that is? Society? 50 years ago transgenderism was more than idiosyncratic; it was perverse. Is this the route we ought to go? Whatever culture says is “good” is good? And, when culture changes than the laws need to change, too?

Attorney Karlan fares no better when Justice Sotomyor asks the same questions. I’ll quote the exchange in whole because it’s worth it:

JUSTICE SOTOMAYOR: But you’re begging Justice Gorsuch’s question. We were following up on the same thing —

MS. KARLAN: I truly am not trying to —


MS. KARLAN: —beg the question.

JUSTICE SOTOMAYOR: —how do we differentiate the two? What is the legal test that you propose to say this is discrimination because of sex, as you said, calling you one thing and your friend another is discriminatory, but it’s okay because there’s no harm. So what’s the test we apply to, say, when it is harm and when it isn’t?

MS. KARLAN: Let –let me try to be clear.


MS. KARLAN: It’s not discrimination to call me Ms. Karlan and to call Mr. Harris, Mr. Harris. It is –it is because of sex that we were treated differently.

But as this Court has made it clear several times, discrimination consists in an injury that the law is prepared to recognize. And generally across all statutes, this isn’t a Title VII, and this is why I’m really not begging the question here, the Court has said de minimis effects are exempted from statutes presumptively. So if this Court thinks or if another court —


MS. KARLAN: —thinks —

JUSTICE SOTOMAYOR: —is a dress code for Hooters that requires all women to wear a scantily –a scant dress, is that discriminatory?

MS. KARLAN: Yes, it is.

JUSTICE SOTOMAYOR: Is it discriminatory for the woman who just doesn’t want to wear it because it’s demeaning?

MS. KARLAN: Yes, it is.

JUSTICE SOTOMAYOR: So how about, is it discriminatory for the restaurant not to hire a transgender man who wants to wear the uniform?

MS. KARLAN: Well, you’re going to get —

JUSTICE SOTOMAYOR: The scant uniform.

MS. KARLAN: I –I mean, I do want to get to the question of sexual orientation


MS. KARLAN: –here, but I understand –I understand.

JUSTICE SOTOMAYOR: But I think what you’re alluding is, and I still haven’t heard —


JUSTICE SOTOMAYOR: — the explanation, which is the question of how do we tell what’s actionable and not?

MS. KARLAN: Well, if —

JUSTICE SOTOMAYOR: At what –when does that discrimination become an issue?

Oral arguments, 17:15 – 20:2.

The line has been cut. The eyeglasses smashed. The boat has drifted away, been caught by the current, and has lost sight of land. Now that we’re adrift, we have nothing holding us to reality.

What is that objective standard, that anchor, that line holding us fast to the dock of reality? It’s God’s revelation to us, in the form of the Christian scriptures. Suffice it to say that morality can and will be legislated. Always has and always will be. Why else do you think it’s against the law to murder someone? The only question is which morality, and its claim for authority in our lives and in society. But, that’s an article for another time. For now, I leave you with this article outlining the Christian mission to this secular age.

In the next article, we’ll examine Justice Gorsuch’s opinion.

Bostock’s bad blunders …

Read the series so far.

As we consider the oral arguments, let’s reset and consider what Bostock is all about. It’s always refreshing to set aside the rhetoric, the passion and the partisanship and just look at the text of the statute. It clarifies things. Makes them simple.

Note: I’m not concerned with the conventions of American legal interpretation. I’m writing as a sane layperson who has spent his life in law enforcement and investigations, in criminal and civil contexts in both Federal and State government.

The point at issue is whether Clayton County, by allegedly firing Bostock because he was a homosexual, violated Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. So, the very first thing is to look at what the statute says. Here’s what it says:

EMPLOYER PRACTICES It shall be an unlawful employment practice for an employer

(1) to fail or refuse to hire or to discharge any individual, or otherwise to discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin; or

42 USC 2000e-2(A)

That’s it. It all comes down to that. Remember this.

The linchpin of Bostock’s argument is that you can’t separate discrimination “because of … sex” from discrimination “because of … sexual orientation.” Of course, the phrase “sexual orientation” is not in the text. Bostock argues that we must read it into “sex.”

In a previous post, I explained how to understand what, exactly, the phrase “discrimination because of sexual orientation” means. You may think you understand. After all, doesn’t everybody?

No. We can’t assume anything. We must define our terms. This is the way it works with these things. Interestingly, Bostock doesn’t try to define the phrase. Not in the petition. Not during the oral arguments. The phrase just exists as this … thing. I’m not sure whether this is deliberate. I’m surprised Clayton County didn’t define it either. I think it would have helped. Neither did the Solicitor General on behalf of the U.S. Justice Department, in support of Clayton County.

So, here is a reasonable way to understand “discrimination because of sexual orientation:”

Cobbling together the relevant OED definitions for “sex,” “orientation” and “discriminate,” we can construct an objective definition for “discrimination because of sexual orientation” as something like this:

treating a person in an unfair or prejudicial manner (OED, s.v. “discriminate,” v., 4) because of his emotional attitude and appetite with respect to sexual partners (see OED; s.v. “orientation,” n., 3).

This is a fair and conclusive definition of the concept at issue in Bostock, whose case hinges (in large part) on proving that discrimination “because of … sex” (i.e. being male or female; OED, s.v. “sex,” n., 1a, 2) is analogous to discrimination “because of … emotional attitude with respect to sexual partners.”

Words have semantic domains or broad ranges of meaning. The right meaning of a word depends on context. Some may attempt to interpret “discriminate” in Bostock’s context as something innocuous, perhaps merely to differentiate or distinguish (OED, s.v. “discriminate,” v., 1). This will not do. The context for Title VII is to treat a person or group in an unjust or prejudicial manner, which is why I selected the definition I did (OED, s.v. “discriminate,” v., 4).

Now, we get down to it. Bostock argues:

When a employer fires a male employee for dating men but does not fire female employees who date men, he violates Title VII. The employer has, in the words of Section 703(a), discriminated against the man because he treats that man worse than women who want to do the same thing. And that discrimination is because of sex, again in the words of Section 703(a), because the adverse employment action is based on the male employee’s failure to conform to a particular expectation about how men should behave; namely, that men should be attracted only to women and not to men.

Oral Arguments, 4:13-25. Emphasis added.

This is the argument:

  1. Men must only have sex with women.
  2. But, Bostock wants to have sex with men.
  3. This means Bostock fails to act like a man.
  4. Clayton County fired Bostock because he wasn’t acting like a man.
  5. So, Clayton County discriminated against Bostock because of sex; because he wasn’t acting as the County felt a man should act.

Bostock hangs its hat on the precedent in Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins (1989), in which a woman claimed she was denied a partnership at a law firm because she didn’t act like a prototypical woman. Specifically, one superior advised the woman in Price that, if she wanted to improve her chances to make partner:

Hopkins should “walk more femininely, talk more femininely, dress more femininely, wear make-up, have her hair styled, and wear jewelry.”

In that case, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that sex stereotyping was discrimination “because of … sex” under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act:

Discrimination against an employee on the basis of sex stereotyping–that is, a person’s nonconformity to social or other expectations of that person’s gender–constitutes impermissible sex discrimination, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

In the same way, Bostock argues, his termination was also because of his failure to conform to societal expectations about his gender; specifically, that as a man he must only have sex with women. As a homosexual, he obviously does not comply with this “stereotype” and was thus discriminated against by Clayton County when it fired him:

when a man is discriminated against for being gay, he is discriminated against for not conforming to an expectation about how men should behave.

Oral Arguments, 5:20-23

There is much more, and I’ll cover it in the next article. But, this is the essence of the argument. There are several problems here.

Different words. Discrimination “because of … biological sex” (OED, s.v. “sex,” n., 1a, 2) is not the same thing as discrimination “because of … emotional attitude with respect to sexual partners” (see OED, s.v. “discriminate,” v., 4; s.v. “orientation,” n., 3). They are completely different. The words don’t lie. They mean something. In this case, they mean different things.

Different concepts. It’s true that both scenarios involve a gendered individual. But, discrimination “because of … sex” happens because of a biological status (OED, s.v. “sex,” n., 1a). It is to treat someone in an unjust and prejudicial manner (OED, s.v. “discriminate,” v., 4) because of the nature of his reproductive functions. Orientation, however, is about one’s emotional attitude and feelings with respect to sexual partners (OED; s.v. “orientation,” n., 3). These are completely different concepts.

Must prove intent. If it’s a violation to discriminate “because of … sex,” then someone must prove intent. What does “because of” mean? It means that the discrimination happened because of biological sex. There may well be other factors at play. But, in some form or fashion, the termination must have happened because of sex. Bostock’s case should not have been considered unless he could prove specific intent “because of … sex” in Clayton County’s termination. It doesn’t matter that it’s hard to prove which one happened; if anything even “happened” at all. That’s why the burden of proof is on the accuser. If Bostock wishes to tie the two together, he must prove they’re the same thing. They’re not. This leads us to the next problem.

No standing. In order for this case to have any merit, Bostock must prove the following:

  1. That a discrimination occurred. If the word “discriminate” is not defined by the statute, Bostock should have used an authoritative lexicon such as OED, s.v. “discriminate,” v., 4 to define his terms.
  2. That Clayton County committed this discrimination.
  3. That Clayton County committed this discrimination against Bostock because of his sexual orientation.
  4. That “sexual orientation” is reasonably analogous to the term “sex.” Again, if the statute did not define these terms, Bostock should have used the OED (or another authoritative lexicon) to define these terms and show they’re analogous.

If Bostock had proven these elements, he could have plausibly demonstrated that Clayton County violated Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

None of this happened. At best, Bostock attempted to argue #4. He did this badly and superficially. It’s difficult to understand why this case ever arrived at the U.S. Supreme Court. The attorney who argued Bostock’s case during oral arguments, Pamela Karlen, betrayed a superficial understanding of the issue in response to probing questions from the Court during oral arguments. We will turn to that in the next article.

I’ve made these arguments in a rather detached, clinical way. I haven’t even brought reality, as defined by the Christian scriptures, into this discussion. I’ll do that once I finish the series. For now, it’s enough to see the bankruptcy of Bostock’s argument.

Bostock and the meaning of words

Read the series so far.

I have now read both the petition from Bostock and the response from Clayton County. I have not yet read the transcript of the oral arguments or the Court decision itself because I am working my way through these documents in chronological order.

The sum of the two arguments is this:

  • Bostock argues “sex” in Title VII should include “orientation” because (1) lower courts are split, and (2) you cannot consider a person’s orientation without considering his “sex.”
  • Clayton County replies that (1) lengthy precedent says “sex” does not include orientation, (2) “sex” on its face did not mean orientation in 1964 so it cannot mean it now, (3) Bostock should solve this issue via legislation, (4) his petition is a “thinly veiled” ploy to have the Court legislate because Congress will not change Title VII to include “orientation,” and (5) the entire case is pointless because the county terminated Bostock for issues unrelated to his orientation and claims it has documents to prove it.

The most important thing to do is define terms. What does “sex” mean? What does it really mean? What does “sexual orientation” mean? What about “discriminate?” We all think we know what they mean, but what do they really mean?

The Oxford English Dictionary (“OED”) is the definitive, most authoritative lexicon in the English-speaking world. You need a subscription to access it. I have one. Heh …

Cobbling together the relevant OED definitions for “sex,” “orientation” and “discriminate,” we can construct an objective definition for “discrimination because of sexual orientation” as something like this:

treating a person in an unfair or prejudicial manner (OED, s.v. “discriminate,” v., 4) because of his emotional attitude and appetite with respect to sexual partners (see OED; s.v. “orientation,” n., 3).

This is a fair and conclusive definition of the concept at issue in Bostock, whose case hinges (in large part) on proving that discrimination “because of … sex” (i.e. being male or female; OED, s.v. “sex,” n., 1a, 2) is analogous to discrimination “because of … emotional attitude with respect to sexual partners.”

Words have semantic domains or broad ranges of meaning. The right meaning of a word depends on context. Some may attempt to interpret “discriminate” in Bostock’s context as something innocuous, perhaps merely to differentiate or distinguish (OED, s.v. “discriminate,” v., 1). This will not do. The context for Title VII is to treat a person or group in an unjust or prejudicial manner, which is why I selected the definition I did (OED, s.v. “discriminate,” v., 4).

Bostock does not attempt to define “sex,” “orientation” or “discriminate.” Instead, he argues that discrimination because of orientation is as “reasonably comparable [an] evil” as discrimination because of sex, and Title VII should be interpreted broadly to include the entire spectrum of “sex-based discrimination.” This argument really hinges on definitions of words. Given that, I hope the bankruptcy of this position is becoming clear, if it ever was in doubt. “Sex” is about biology, but “sexual orientation” is about emotional attitude, belief and appetites regarding sexual partners.

You may disagree. But, you have no basis other than juvenile emotion upon which to stand. Define your words, and you define the very meaning of language. Cite your lexicon of choice to argue for different definitions of the terms at issue. I shall wait.

You can’t do it. That should mean something.

I am now starting the transcript of oral arguments …

Bad, bad news

Some quick thoughts about the Bostock v. Clayton County court decision that came out yesterday. The impetus for the case were three separate instances where employees were terminated for being either homosexual or transgender. The Court consolidated all three cases, and the question before it was whether the definition of “sex” under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act included the concepts of “gender identity” and “sexual orientation.” The Court held that it did. My focus here is not the employee terminations; it’s the question before the Court and its decision to re-define “sex” in anti-discrimination law.

  1. Christians who have made an idol of supporting the Republican Party because of the alleged advantage of appointing “conservative justices” now have no leg to stand on. Justice Gorsuch wrote the majority opinion, and Chief Justice Roberts concurred.
  2. Christians may have little meaningful reason to continue to support the Republican Party, except perhaps as the alleged lesser of two evils. We will likely see a wide-scale capitulation to this newest phase of the social revolution. President Trump has already figuratively shrugged his shoulders about the decision.
  3. Republican does not equal Christian. This much should have been obvious for a long time, but now it is clear as day. Christians who have looked to the Republican Party as a vehicle for achieving social change should now see the bankruptcy of this tactic. The Religious Right is dead. This is a good thing. This entire endeavor of the Church’s political activism in the service of social reform was a mistake. I have believed this for a long time. Read Stanley Hauerwas’ book Resident Aliens for a better strategy for the Church.
  4. The idea that “textualism” is a bulwark against bad legal interpretation is now dead forever. There is no way on earth legislators in 1964 would have understood “sex” to mean “gender identity” and “sexual orientation.” Yet, Justice Gorsuch wants us to read it in.
  5. Textualism is only as good as the document to which it pledges loyalty. Chief Justice Taney used “textualism” (an anachronism, I know – but it’s what he did) to defend his interpretation in Dred Scott v. Sanford. The only textualism that really matters is fidelity to scripture. Because our society no longer has any semblance of a Christian view of morality (see #7, below), textualism in service of the U.S. Constitution is not a strategy in which to place anything but deep skepticism.
  6. This decision will open a floodgate of unending litigation against every Christian institution in the country. The very concept of “sex” in the context of non-discrimination law has now been irrevocably altered. This has profound implications, because Christian universities, seminaries, organizations … and churches … will now be targeted by malicious actors. The very expression of reality in this country has now been changed.
  7. How you view the world determines how you think. The Judeo-Christian worldview used to be the philosophical foundation from which citizens understood moral values, even if wasn’t a self-conscious foundation. There used to be a residue of that worldview present in society. This Court decision signals that it is gone forever.
  8. Everybody has to identify some foundation for moral values. Once you cut yourself off from objective truth, you’re cast out onto the open sea of subjectivism. Sex means gender identity because … well, why not? Forget rationality. Forget history. Forget divine revelation. Forget biology. There are only our own subjective feelings, baptized in the laver of diagnoses from mental health professionals (the new secular priests, dispensing the sacrament on letterhead) by whose mystical incantations people are “declared” to suffer from gender dysphoria. People look to what they perceive to be an objective standard to make moral value judgments. Having rejected divine revelation, they’ll look elsewhere. Today, they often look to the sciences. The DSM-V is the Bible, and the mental health professional is the high priest dispensing pagan grace. With the diagnosis letter in hand, the doors are open to validating felt gender identity. Transgender is a valid paradigm. Why? The mental professional says! See, here’s the diagnosis letter …
  9. Employers will now have little recourse to curtail unprofessional and unacceptable workplace behavior. All the employee need do is to claim the behavior is an integral part of his “gender identity.” If you believe there will be “safeguards” in place for businesses to have reasonable leeway to enforce professional codes of conduct, you are very naive.
  10. Christians must figure out what they believe on the subjects of gender and sexual orientation. They must. There is nowhere to hide. Pastors who do not take a stand on this issue are cowards.
  11. Our nation is irrevocably broken. I am more and more inclined to advocate for the Church’s total withdrawal from public life, in the sense of political activism for the social good. The only role I now see for the Church in the public square is for evangelism. Again, see Resident Aliens and perhaps Rod Dreher’s The Benedict Option, though I have not yet read the latter.

I’m reading the Court documents, including the transcript of oral arguments and the decision itself, and will write up an analysis in the next month or so. I did the same for the Obergefell v. Hodges decision a few years back. It’ll be an analysis of the arguments and its implications from a Christian perspective. I hope to have it ready by late July.