Christian School Teachers Fired for Out-of-Wedlock Pregnancies
Were the firings legal? A recent Supreme Court ruling sheds light.

Two female teachers at Christian schools in different parts of the country were recently fired for becoming pregnant out of wedlock, according to Cincinnati.com News and WFAA-TV. Both women are working with lawyers on separate lawsuits against the schools in Ohio and Texas.

A January decision from the Supreme Court on ministerial exception plays a large role in whether or not a court will allow such lawsuits. In that ruling, the Court affirmed the ministerial exception, which bars courts from reviewing employment disputes between churches and ministers. The case involved a Christian school in Michigan that fired a teacher. The Court decided that the First Amendment prevents courts from "interfering with the freedom of religious groups to select" their clergy, and, based on various criteria, the teacher could be classified as a minister.

In Ohio, a U.S. District Court judge determined the teacher wasn't a minister, and her lawsuit could proceed, according to an Associated Press story. In this case, the woman is a Protestant Christian, fired by a Catholic school for becoming pregnant out of wedlock through artificial insemination–which is considered immoral and in violation of Roman Catholic Church teaching.

The judge says the teacher did not qualify as a minister because she is not Catholic, other non-Catholics had been hired, and non-Catholics could not teach religion classes.

In Texas, a Christian school teacher also was fired for becoming pregnant out of wedlock, according to Dallas/Fort Worth news station WFAA-TV. The school headmaster says the school considers teachers as ministers and is aware of the January Supreme Court ruling. The school refuses to settle the case.

Richard Hammar writes in depth about the Supreme Court's ministerial exception ruling and how it applies to churches in a Feature Report from Church Law & Tax Report, "What the ‘Ministerial Exception' Ruling Means for Churches." Rich provides a four-factor test applied by the Supreme Court in its January decision:

  • the formal job title given by the church
  • if ministerial status was conferred following religious training or exams
  • if the individual holds himself or herself out as a minister (by claiming a housing allowance or accepting a formal call to religious service)
  • if job duties convey the church's message and mission

Rich then applies that four-factor test to several common scenarios for churches or church-run schools to help gauge when a staff member may be considered a minister.

Churches that run schools should review whether or not their teachers qualify as ministers. Churches may also need to review various staff positions to determine if they qualify as ministerial as well.

This content is designed to provide accurate and authoritative information in regard to the subject matter covered. It is published with the understanding that the publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting, or other professional service. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional person should be sought. "From a Declaration of Principles jointly adopted by a Committee of the American Bar Association and a Committee of Publishers and Associations

Comments

Displaying 1–3 of 3 comments

Anonymous

May 16, 2012  7:08am

I find this interesting. In my church, we were taught it isn't our place to judge others. Isn't firing someone because you don't agree with their choices similar to judgement? Wouldn't the schools in these scenarious want to be role models and show students what forgiveness and understanding look like?

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Mark Adams

May 08, 2012  11:05am

I would believe that a factor in parents choosing to send their children to a Christian school is that they desire for their children to be taught in a godly, moral environment. Immorality by staff whether they be clergy or not should not be tolerated. It sends the wrong message to the students as to what is considered acceptable behavior for "Christians". I would hope that the courts would honor employee handbooks if they were to tell the school staff on interviewing for the job/being hired that there were certain moral/behavioral standards they were to abide by if this wished to be employed or to continue in their employment with the school. If so, this would eliminate the need for them being classified as clergy. They would know what type of behavior was expected of them as a condition of employment.

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Margo (Bible Games Factory)

May 07, 2012  11:14am

I can't believe that I hadn't heard about these two stories until just now! I have to say that I don't agree with the firing. While I'm not a fan of out-of-wedlock pregnancy, I don't think it's grounds for someone losing their job—even if their job is associated with the church. That's just my take on it, though. I'm sure others will disagree with me.

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