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Supreme Court of the United States

Punished for Following the Law? What Happens When Unelected Officials Rewrite Law

By Maureen Collins posted on:
July 10, 2019

You’re driving across Interstate 94 in southeastern Michigan. Suddenly, a highway patrol car with red lights flashing and sirens blaring comes into view behind you. You realize that the officer inside is signaling you to stop.

The officer gets out of his vehicle and approaches you. “Good morning,” he says. “Do you realize that you’re going over the speed limit?”

“Good morning, officer,” you reply. “I think I was going 65 miles per hour.” At this point, you’re very confused. After all, you’ve been paying attention, and the speed limit signs have said “65” for miles.

“True,” the officer responds, “but, you see, I’m a Michigan State graduate.” Suddenly, you remember the University of Michigan—Michigan State’s rival—“Go Blue!” sticker on your car’s bumper.

“The speed limit,” he says, “just changed to 60.”

You’re angry—and you should be. The authorities enforcing our laws cannot change them to suit their preferences. If they could, it would open the door to all kinds of abuses—like ticketing someone for the content of a bumper sticker.

And while this story is a hypothetical, something similar is actually happening in Michigan.

Punished for Following the Law

In our country, the legislative branch makes laws and the executive branch enforces them.

The Framers of the Constitution set this up intentionally when they created a “separation of powers” between the executive, legislative, and judicial branch. If those making laws also enforced them, they could easily abuse their power to reward their friends and punish their enemies.

But an executive agency defied this constitutional design. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) rewrote the law that Congress passed over 50 years ago. Why? Because they want to punish someone with whom they disagree.

That person is Tom Rost.

Tom owns and operates Harris Funeral Homes, a family-owned business that has been ministering to grieving families for over 100 years in the Detroit area. Harris Funeral Home has a professional code of conduct and a sex-specific dress code to ensure that the families and friends of a deceased loved one focus on processing their grief rather than on the funeral home and its employees.

A few years back, one of Tom’s employees—a biological male—requested to start presenting and dressing as a woman while interacting with grieving families at work. This is a violation of the funeral home’s dress code, which the employee agreed to follow at the time of hiring nearly six years earlier. After Tom considered what the employee proposed and weighed the interests of that employee, his other employees, and the grieving families he serves, Tom determined that he could not go along with it.

That’s when the EEOC got involved.

In order to go after Tom, the EEOC needed to re-write a section of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. It effectively changed the words “sex” to mean “gender identity,” so it could file a claim against Tom for applying his perfectly legal dress code.

Put simply: Tom was punished for following the law.

Without the Separation of Powers, Our Freedom Is Threatened

If officials in the executive branch can re-write law, they can punish whomever they want. What the EEOC did to Tom is a lot like a police officer changing the speed limit on an unsuspecting motorist.

And the commissioners at the EEOC aren’t even elected by the people. They’re appointed by the president. So unelected officials are bypassing Congress (which is chosen by the people) in order to punish a 100-year-old family-owned business.

Not only is this a violation of the Constitution’s separation of powers, it’s a great injustice to Tom and his family.

But Tom is standing firm. Right now, he is waiting for the United States Supreme Court to hear his case in October. The Supreme Court’s decision in this case will decide not only whether Tom gets justice but also whether unelected officials can rewrite law.

And that has big implications for us all. Because if those enforcing law can also write it, that threatens everyone’s freedom.

Maureen Collins

Maureen Collins

Digital Cultivation Manager

Maureen Collins serves as the Digital Cultivation Manager at Alliance Defending Freedom.

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