Religion Isn’t a Free Pass to Discriminate Against Employees

Across the country teachers at religiously affiliated schools are being fired for their reproductive choices.  What’s worse, the schools are unapologetic, claiming they have the right to discriminate because of their religious beliefs.

Emily Herx, a former Language Arts and Literature teacher at St. Vincent de Paul, a Catholic School in Indiana, was fired after she requested time off to receive in vitro fertilization (IVF) treatment.  She is suing the school for sex and disability discrimination in federal court, and today we filed a friend-of-the court brief to support her legal arguments.  A few states over, Jane Doe (a pseudonym), an employee at a Catholic school in Missouri, was fired for becoming pregnant outside of wedlock.  Today the ACLU of Kansas & Western Missouri filed a complaint on Jane’s behalf with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission for sex discrimination.   

Both Emily and Jane were dedicated to their jobs and received outstanding reviews.  They were both lay employees, who did not perform any religious or ministerial duties.  They were both excited to share the news with their employers that they were expanding their families.  And they were both fired simply because of their reproductive decisions. 

St. Vincent’s pastor told Emily she was a “grave, immoral sinner” and it would cause a “scandal” if others learned that she used IVF treatment.  The president of Jane’s school told her that he was worried about others people’s perceptions about her pregnancy and demanded that she begin working from home starting in June (during her second trimester) and take an unpaid leave of absence starting at the end of the school year in July through January 2013.  Although Jane’s school verbally promised that Jane would be able to keep her health insurance during her leave of absence, they refused to put this promise in writing.  

It would be illegal for almost any employer to fire an employee who is (or is trying to become) pregnant.  But in these cases, the schools are arguing that they are entitled to discriminate because they are a religiously affiliated school.  That is flat out wrong.  When it comes to employees like Emily and Jane, who have absolutely no religious duties or responsibilities, it is always illegal for religiously affiliated employers to discriminate on the basis of sex, race, national origin, or disability.  Because only women can become pregnant, these schools discriminated against Emily and Jane on the basis of their sex.  St. Vincent also discriminated against Emily on the basis of her disability when it fired her for using IVF, a medical treatment that addresses Emily’s disability of infertility. 

We’ve said it before and we’ll keep saying it—religious freedom does not come with a license to discriminate on the basis of sex, race, national origin, or disability.  Period.  The First Amendment protects our right to believe whatever we want and to act on those beliefs, unless those actions harm others. We live in a diverse society and the freedom to believe what you want comes with the responsibility to respect other people’s rights and beliefs, as well.  Just as restaurant owners in the 1960s were required to serve African-Americans despite their religious opposition to racial integration, and religious schools were required to pay male and female teachers equally, even though they believed the Bible considers men the head of the household, schools like St. Vincent cannot fire Emily and Jane because of their pregnancies, even if they believe IVF treatment or pregnancy outside of wedlock are sins. 

Unfortunately, Emily and Jane are not alone.  In Ohio, Christa Dias was fired by a religious school for using artificial insemination to become pregnant.  In Florida, Jarretta Hamilton was fired by a religious school for becoming pregnant outside of marriage.  In both of these cases the school argued their religious rights give them a free pass to discriminate.  Fortunately, courts have disagreed

Discrimination is discrimination, no matter what the reasoning.  And it’s always illegal.   

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RoLaAus

I find it appaling that your notion of these teachers not having any religious duties in their function as school teachers. They are in fact, performing one of the most central aspects of religious duties, instructing the future generations. Whether or not these teachers are instructing their students directly in religious obligations (doctrine, morality issues, etc.) they are in fact employed by, and thus have a very close knit bond, or relationship to this organization. Their income is based on their affiliation with the "mother church" organization that stands behind the school (in this case, the Catholic church). How can you come from an obvious view of an outsider and be able to claim you understand the implications of an organization, such as a Catholic church, that upholds certain moral standardds, and then say it is okay for an employee of this organization to violate those standards and not suffer the consequences of their actions.
Personally, I do not agree with the Catholic church's viewpoint that a married couple seeking out IVF is a violation of God's morality, they don't have any Scripture doctrine to support this claim - and believe me, except for the couple of extra books of the Catholic Bible, I have had enough study of God's Word coming from the Protestant standpoint to know this to be true. Nowhere does the Bible specifically address IVF, as it was not even a concept, let alone a valid medical procedure, during the time the Bible was written, or ratified.
However, one of the greatest characteristics of this great nation that we live in, is the fact that each religious organization can decide on their own what they view is right and wrong morally. And it is hypocritical for an outsider to look at one organizations views of right and wrong and say that they are wrong (not valid) in their actions that support their moral views of right and wrong.
Put another way, you claim that a religion has the right to decide what is right and wrong and to ACT upon those beliefs, so long as those actions do not "harm" another person. Well, to claim that getting fired from a position within an organization for violating their belief's of what is right and wrong, is "harmful" is a sad exaggaration of the situation. If you claim that being fired for their moral violation is harmful, than you are implying that this person has the fundamental right, nay not just the fundamental right, but the obligation to be employed by this particular school. In other words, being fired for a morality violation, is equivalent to having their consitutional rights to free speach taken away from them.
In a world where an employer can let a person go for receiving a DUI, or too many DUI's, or "druken disorderlies", or for even being too rowdy at a company party, or pick any number of legal violations that have no direct impact on the persons ability to perform their duties, it is not okay just to exclude this morality violation merely based on the fact that it involves a persons reproductive system. An employer is legally allowed to examine the risk of certain potential employees and base their hiring decision on this risk, for example, running a credit report before being hired as a bank teller. If a person has a huge amount of debt, the employer will determine that they are at risk of stealing or embezling money. In the same manner, an employer *should* be able to examine the potential (or existing) employees risk at violating any of their morality standards, and upon an existing employees violation, should be able to freely fire said employee for such a violation. One good example, especially one that could not be measured by anything short of a questionaire/survey for new/potential hires, is if an employer finds out their employee is a racist. They have the right to say that this employees racism could potentially cause them business, because they deal in such a diverse marketplace. In the same manner, if the business (or school) is geared towards families and especially the raising up on young influencial children, they should have even more freedom to discern what is and is not acceptable behaivour.
The irony of all this is that you are violating this schools God given rights (see the Constitution of this United States for support of this claim) to say what is and isn't right, because you believe what they are doing is wrong. Who do you think you are to make such a determination, when the great Constitution of America says it is an inalliable right given to us by OUR CREATOR!
Ultimately, this teacher does not NEED to be employed by the school run by the Catholic church, there are many other private and public school settings where her actions will not have any bearing on how her employer views her ability to perform her job function. She has transferrable skills that not only are valid for other similar non-Catholic employers, but she can even earn a living in other similar settings, she could become a paid tutor who "works for herslef" and is hired by the parents of struggling students, no matter which school the student attends. She can become a corporate instructor teaching basic computer skills, possibly an various work force development type settings (i.e. unemployment agencies, or even temporary employment agencies - some of these which provide free training for their employees so they can expand their knowledge and skill sets. I myself attended a free class from my temporary agency that taught Java programming basics).
This teacher has been in no way shape or form "harmed" by her employers actions, except that she lost her income - most likely temporarily, if only she focused on finding a suitable new employer instead of sitting around griping and complainging about one specific employer did to her, and trying to rely on nothing more than free money based on the sense of entitlement (that she was entitled to work at this specific job for this specific employer), when many states have no "right to work", meaning you can be fired for any reason. But unfortunately, today's society, especially in the age of Obama, where relying upon the government for hand-outs, has become common place.

RoLaAus

This teacher has been in no way shape or form "harmed" by her employers actions, except that she lost her income - most likely temporarily, if only she focused on finding a suitable new employer instead of sitting around griping and complainging about one specific employer did to her, and trying to rely on nothing more than free money based on the sense of entitlement (that she was entitled to work at this specific job for this specific employer), when many states have no "right to work", meaning you can be fired for any reason. But unfortunately, today's society, especially in the age of NO,bama, where relying upon the government for hand-outs, has become common place.

Anonymous

I say let's religious organizations have their way in hiring or firing but let's take away their tax exempt status since they have become such an influence in politics and healthcare. Freedom of religion means that individuals are free to worship as they please; it does not mean that they have the authority to make decisions that affect other individual's lives based on those beliefs. Since that boundary has been clearly broken and religious groups wish to continue to have a voice in government and society, then they should pay taxes like the rest of us. As a matter of fact, they have been getting a free ride because they function through funds for which others have paid taxes. I say that since many of us suffer double taxation, then these organizations should also share in the American lifestyle and dream.

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