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Are SCOTUS Justice Gorsuch's Episcopal connections showing?

Are SCOTUS Justice Gorsuch's Episcopal connections showing?
Neil Gorsuch had a favorite uncle who was a progressive Episcopal priest who ran for bishop

By Mary Ann Mueller
VOL Special Correspondent
June 21, 2020

One of the first acts President Donald Trump did, just barely two weeks into in his administration, was to nominate Denver's Tenth Circuit of the US Court of Appeals Justice, Neil McGill Gorsuch to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Gorsuch, listed as an Episcopalian, was filling in the seat vacated by the late Justice Antonin Scalia, a Catholic. At the time of his nomination he was considered to have "elite credentials coupled with conservative Western roots."

As a child he went to Georgetown Preparatory School, a prestigious and elite Jesuit preparatory boarding school. He then earned his undergraduate degree at Columbia University and then went on to Harvard Law School. He also managed to pick up a Doctor of Philosophy in Law from the University of Oxford in England, where he ultimately met his future wife, Marie Louise Burleston.

Apparently, Gorsuch is not as conservative as hoped. Four times since joining the Supreme Court, he has sided with the liberal justices to swing the decision in their favor. President Donald Trump's second conservative Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh has also been known a time or two to cross the fence and side with the liberal justices.

Justice Clarence Thomas, the longest sitting justice on the current Supreme Court, is a hardline conservative, followed by Justice Samuel Alito. Chief Justice John Roberts is a moderate conservative and joined Justice Gorsuch to give the latest landmark ruling a solid 6-3 edge.

Liberals on the Court include all three women and all three Jews: Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan as well as Stephen Breyer. Kagan, Ginsburg and Breyer are the Jews on the Court. Other than Gorsuch -- the lone Episcopalian -- five of the nine justices are Roman Catholic: Justices Sotomayor, Thomas, Alito, Kavanaugh and Chief Justice Roberts.

At the time of his nomination to the Supreme Court, NPR reported: "Gorsuch is considered a cerebral proponent of 'originalism,' the idea that the Constitution should be interpreted as the Founding Fathers would have more than 200 years ago, and of 'textualism,' the idea that statutes should be interpreted literally, without considering the legislative history and underlying purpose of the law."

Noah Feldman from Bloomberg explains Gorsuch's Supreme Court ruling: "The ground on which Gorsuch is fighting is the theory of statutory interpretation known as 'textualism.' The basic idea is that, when interpreting federal law, judges should not ask what the authors of the law meant to say, or try to divine legislative intent from the congressional record or the political context. Rather, textualism says that the overwhelming focus of statutory interpretation should be the words of the law itself: the text."

The case, Bostock v. Clayton County, involves Gerald Bostock, an official with the juvenile court system in Clayton County, Georgia. When he joined a gay softball league, he was fired for "conduct unbecoming a county employee." He sued and won and the landmark Supreme Court decision changed the way the LGBT employees are to be protected in the workplace. It set up a conflict between religious freedom and gay rights.


What is at issue is the definition of the word "sex" in the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which outlawed discrimination based on "race (Caucasian, Negro, Indian ...), color (black, white, brown ...), religion (Protestant, Catholic, Hindu ...), sex (male or female), or national origin (birth place: America, Europe, Africa ...)." The Civil Rights Act was basically designed to "prohibit unequal application of voter registration requirements, and racial segregation in schools, employment, and public accommodations."

In 1964, the overriding issue was race, not sex. The 1964 Civil Rights Act was designed to help dismantle Jim Crow laws and end racial segregation. The 1964 Civil Rights Act was meant to level the playing field and allow for equal access to the ballot box, education, housing and employment. For the most part, sex did not come into the equation. Negroes, Caucasians, American Indians, Hispanics and Orientals came in two sexes -- male and female. A child was either a boy or a girl; an adult was a man or a woman.

In 1964, "sex" was determined by what was or was not in between a person's legs. Gay, lesbian, binary, cisgender, transgendered, and the like, were far from the thoughts of the authors of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, much less the framers of the US Constitution.

"Those who adopted the Civil Rights Act might not have anticipated their work would lead to this particular result," Gorsuch wrote in his landmark decision. "But the limits of the drafters' imagination supply no reason to ignore the law's demands."

Through the years, and influenced by the 1960's Sexual Revolution, the Supreme Court has tweaked its understanding of "sex" under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, focusing on sexual harassment, gender stereotyping, sexual orientation and gender identity. In 1986, the high court determined that sexual harassment is considered discrimination based on sex. In 1989, the Supreme Court established that discrimination related to non-conformity of gender stereotypical behavior was unallowable under Title VII. Then in 1998, the Court further ruled that same-sex harassment was also considered to be discrimination under Title VII.

Monday (June 15) the latest adjustment, hammered into place by a hotly contested 6-3 split decision, determined that sexual orientation is covered, extending full Title VII protection to LGBT employees regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Maintaining that that "an employer who fires an individual merely for being gay or transgender violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964."

Leading the charge was Neil Gorsuch. His work has resulted in a "landmark decision" effecting how Americans must legally act from this point forward. Basically, a "landmark decision" establishes a significant new legal principle or concept or otherwise substantially changes the interpretation of existing law. Such a decision may settle the law in more than one way: by distinguishing a new principle that refines a prior principle, thus departing from prior practice and setting a precedent; or establishing a "test" or a measurable standard that can be applied by courts in future decisions.


Episcopalians cheered when the Supreme Court decision was announced.

"The Supreme Court has spoken again for the equality of all God's children," said Presiding Bishop Michael Curry. "The fundamental equality of humanity is God-given. It is enshrined in the Bible in the first chapter of Genesis when it says human beings are created in the image and likeness of God."

Catholic Archbishop Jose Horacio Gómez (V Los Angeles) the President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) decried the redefining of the "image and likeness of God."

"Every human person is made in the image and likeness of God and, without exception, must be treated with dignity, compassion, and respect." the Archbishop said in a statement posted on the Vatican website. "However, protecting our neighbors from unjust discrimination does not require redefining human nature."

Curry, along with House of Deputies President Gay Clark Jennings, signed an amici curiae brief in support of transgendered and gay rights.

"Today (June 15) the (Supreme) Court agreed (with our friend-of-court brief), finding 6-3 that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects gay and transgender workers from workplace discrimination," the HOB President wrote on Facebook. "As Christians, we bear a particular responsibility to speak out, because attempts to deny LGBTQ people their dignity and humanity as children of God are too often made in the name of God."

TransEpiscopal hailed the Presiding Bishop and Jennings for their joint effort. "We feel the support of our wider church, particularly from Presiding Bishop Michael Curry and President of the House of Deputies Gay Clark Jennings, who were lead signers on an amicus brief," TransEpiscopal posted. "Thank you."

"Our joy flows primarily from the fact that this ruling affirms what God has ordained and what we already know, that every human being is made in the image of God and has inherent, dignity, value and worth," Bishop Robert Wright (X Atlanta) said in a written statement. "And that prejudice in every form is incompatible with faith in God and with a nation whose goal is greatness."

Bishop Mariann Budde (IX Washington, DC) tweeted: "What once seemed impossible happened today. What some Christians wanted to happen today didn't. What many Christians prayed and worked for, alongside many others, happened. I'm giving thanks tonight and celebrating with my GLBTQ friends and family."

While The Episcopal Church cheers the latest 2020 landmark decision, the 2015 members of the Episcopal General Convention danced in the streets of Salt Lake City, Utah, when another Supreme Court landmark decision was announced during Convention. That decision concerned the 14th Amendment, affirming the fundamental right of a person to marriage the person of their choice, thus allowing same-sex marriage legally spreading to all 50 states.

"I rejoice that the Supreme Court has opened the way for the love of two people to be recognized by all the states of this Union, and that the Court has recognized that it is this enduring, humble love that extends beyond the grave that is to be treasured by society wherever it exists," former Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori stated at the time. "Our society will be enriched by the public recognition of such enduring faithful love in families headed by two men or two women as well as by a woman and a man."


Gorsuch is considered an Episcopalian and is currently the only Protestant justice on the High Court. The other justices are either Roman Catholic or Jewish. Gorsuch was raised Catholic, but eventually "joined" The Episcopal Church. While living in Denver, he belonged to St. John's Episcopal Church in downtown Boulder, Colorado.

He came into The Episcopal Church through the backdoor. While studying at Oxford in England, he met his future wife -- a British subject -- who belonged to the Church of England. In 1996 the couple were married in a CofE parish and then settled in The Episcopal Church upon returning to the United States. They attended Holy Comforter Episcopal Church parish in Vienna, Virginia.

However, it is not known if Gorsuch is Episcopalian-in-name-only, attending The Episcopal Church for the sake of the family, or if he has truly converted to Episcopalianism, embracing its liberal theology and accepting its social justice platform particularly on LGBT issues.

"But in the black-and-white world of partisan politics, Gorsuch's writings and religious life show several strands of gray," CNN reports. "After marrying in a non-Catholic ceremony and joining an Episcopal church, Gorsuch has not publicly stated if he considers himself a Catholic who is also a Protestant, or simply a Protestant."

The Supreme Court justice tends to avoid speaking publicly about his faith and spiritual background. He keeps his religious convictions close to the vest. Little is known about his personal faith other than that he is religiously observant.

Since his marriage, Gorsuch's Episcopal church involvement has been traced to Holy Comforter in Vienna, Virginia and then St. Johns' in Boulder. However, it is not known where the family is worshipping now since he joined the Supreme Court.

Where the Gorsuch's are currently worshipping is a mystery. Has the family returned to Holy Comforter or have they settled in another Episcopal church in metro Washington? Have the clergy and members of the church been sworn to secrecy to protect their privacy?

Apparently on church membership forms, Gorsuch has listed his religion as "Catholic" and there is no record that he formally joined The Episcopal Church.

Gorsuch's brother, J.J. Gorsuch, explains: "Neil was raised in the Catholic Church and confirmed in the Catholic Church as an adolescent, but he has been attending Episcopal services for the past 15 or so years."

Michael Trent, a close boarding school friend of Gorsuch says he believes Gorsuch would consider himself "a Catholic who happens to worship at an Episcopal church."

The Rev. Susan Springer, St. John's rector in Boulder said she doesn't know whether Gorsuch considers himself a Catholic or as an Episcopalian.

"I have no evidence that Judge Gorsuch considers himself an Episcopalian, she said. "Likewise, no evidence that he does not."

Gorsuch meets the minimum requirements for being an Episcopalian. He is a baptized Christian, he attends church and receives Communion at least three times a year, he is active in the local congregation and financially supports the church.

His late uncle, Fr. Jack Gorsuch, was an early progressive Episcopal priest who championed the ordination of woman as well as social justice issues and was once in the running for bishop, losing out to Robert Cochrane who became the VI Bishop of Olympia.

Gorsuch called his Uncle Jack "a hero of mine" during his 2017 confirmation hearings.

"We recently lost my Uncle Jack, a hero of mine," Judge Neil Gorsuch said in his opening statement of his confirmation hearings. "He gave the benediction when I took an oath as a judge 11 years ago. I confess I was hoping he might offer a similar prayer soon."

"The intent here is key," explains Fr. Thomas Ferguson the former Academic Dean at Bexley Hall Seabury Western Seminary. "If he intends to be an Episcopalian, he could certainly be considered one."

Interestingly, conservative Justice Clarence Thomas, who is a Roman Catholic, was for a while through marriage an Episcopalian, but he eventually returned to the Catholic fold.

Purportedly, St. John's, where the Gorsuch family worshipped, is a "welcoming and inclusive" and politically liberal congregation of 1,448 souls of whom 304 showed up on Sunday before the COVID-19 shutdown. There are 14 priests and deacons who serve at the church, nine of whom nine are women, including the rector.

There are a dozen gay-friendly congregations in Boulder, representing a spectrum of Christian denominations including: The Reformed Church, the Mennonites, the United Church in Christ, the Methodists, the Lutherans, the American Baptists, University of Colorado chapels, and the Episcopalians. Two of the four Episcopal churches in Boulder self-identify as welcoming the LGBT crowd, including St. John's.


Shortly after women's ordination became a fact, General Convention turned its eyes upon homosexuality, eventually branching out into transgenderism and gender identity and expression. Not all Resolutions offered passed, so many were resubmitted in subsequent Conventions. At each Convention, the push for the gay agenda became more strident and demanding.

Through the years there came a flurry of Resolutions including, but not limited to:
• 1976-D058; 1976-B101; and B102: Study the Matter of the Ordination of Homosexuals;
• 1976-A071: Support the Right of Homosexuals to Equal Protection of the Law;
• 1976-A069: Recognize the Equal Claims of Homosexuals;
• 1979-C035: Express Gratitude to Groups Ministering to Homosexuals;
• 1979-A053: Recommend Guidelines on the Ordination of Homosexuals;
• 1982-B061: Reaffirm the Civil Rights of Homosexuals;
• 1985-D082: Urge Dioceses to Reach a Better Understanding of Homosexuality;
• 1988-A085 and 1988-D100: Decry Violence Against Homosexuals;
• 1988-D102: Continue Work and Consultation on Questions of Human Sexuality;
• 1988-D120: Urge Local Discussion and Report on Human Sexuality;
• 1988-D132: Support Exploration of Causes of Suicide Among Gay and Lesbian Youth;
• 1991-B003: On the Topic of the Canon on Regulations Respecting the Clergy;
• 1991-C032: On the Topic of the Canon Provisions on Equal Access to Ordination;
• 1991-D176: Deploy Monogamous Homosexual Priests Within Limitations;
• 1994-C004: Reaffirm Canon on Equal Access to Ordination Process for Men and Women:
• 1994-C013: On the Topic of Human Sexuality;
• 1994-C019: Reaffirm Resolution on Equal Protection Under Law for Homosexuals;
• 2000-C008: Continue Dialogue on Human Sexuality;
• 2000-C029: Urge Congress to Enact Hate Crimes Legislation to include crimes against persons on the basis of sexual orientation, gender, and disability as grounds for federal prosecution of a hate crime;
• 2003-C045: Consent to the Election of the Rev. Canon V. Gene Robinson as Bishop Coadjutor-elect of New Hampshire;
• 2006-A168: On the Topic of Human Rights of Homosexual Persons;
• 2006-D005: Oppose Criminalization of Homosexuality;
• 2003-C051: Consider Blessing Committed, Same-Gender Relationships;
• 2009-C048: Support federal laws that prohibit employment discrimination because of sexual orientation or gender identity;
• 2009-D025 Reaffirm Participation in the Anglican Communion and Acknowledge Differences;
• 2009-C061 and C055: On the Topic of Amending Title III.1.2 [Access to Discernment Process] to add gender identity and expression to the list of attributes that cannot be used to deny access to ordination;
• 2009-D032: Commit to Non-Discrimination in Lay Employment;
• 2009-D090: Encourage Inclusive Self-Identification on All Church Data Forms
• 2009-D012: Support Laws that Prohibit Discrimination Based on Gender Identity;
• 2012-A049: Authorize Liturgical Resources for Blessing Same-Sex Relationships;
• 2012-D002: Amend Canon III.1.2 [Access to Discernment Process for Ministry] adding nondiscrimination on the basis of "gender identity and expression" to the access clause of the ministry discernment process;
• 2012-D019: Amend Canon I.17.5 [Rights of Laity] to include "gender identity and expression" among reasons why no one shall be denied rights, status, or equal access in the Church;
• 2012-D091: Refer a Resolution on Amending the Marriage Canons; amend Canons I.18.2(b) and 18.3(e-f) concerning the solemnization of marriage by replacing the phrase, "a man and a woman" with "two people.";
• 2015-A036: Amend Canon I.18 [Of the Solemnization of Holy Matrimony] to permit the union of any couple so long as the marriage shall conform to civil and canon law;
• 2015-A054" Authorize Trial Use of Marriage and Blessing Rites in 'Liturgical Resources 1';
• 2015-D028: Oppose Therapists Engaged in Changing Sexual Identity;
• 2015-D047: Extend Church Pension Fund Benefits to Same-Gender Couples;
• 2018-D032: Advocate for Gender Equity, Including Reproductive Rights, in Healthcare;
• 2018-A088: Develop Guidelines for Amending Name and Gender in Church Records;
• 2018-A145: Urge Adoption of Policies on Diversity Before Election of a Bishop;
• 2018-B012: Authorize Trial Liturgies for Same-Sex Marriage;
• 2018-C022: Support End of Discrimination Against Transgender and Non-Binary People;
• 2018-C054: Adopt Guiding Principles for Inclusion of Trans and Nonbinary People; and
• 2018-D069: Collect Data on LGBT Clergy Deployment and Compensation.


When Gorsuch penned: "An employer who fires an individual for being homosexual or transgender, fires that person for traits or actions it would not have questioned in members of a different sex. Sex plays a necessary and undisguisable role in the decision, exactly what Title VII forbids," he threw a monkey wrench into the works of allowing religious churches, schools and organizations to insure their employees adhere to their doctrines while on paid staff.

Conservative Christian denominations, as the Catholic Church, conservative Evangelicals, fundamentalists, and even ministries and charitable organizations, including Samaritan's Purse and the Salvation Army, will find themselves hard-pressed to maintain their religious principles in hiring and firing employees in the face of Gorsuch's opinion.

Freedom of Religion, guaranteed under the First Amendment to the Constitution, and gay employment rights, now protected under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act -- an action of Congress and enshrined by the Supreme Court -- are on a collision course.

Mary Ann Mueller is a journalist living in Texas. She is a regular contributor to VirtueOnline

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