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Christian school’s lawsuit may test court ruling

A lawsuit by a Southern California Christian school against two former teachers who refused to provide proof of their faith could pose one of the first court tests of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling on religious freedom.

A legal expert said last year's ruling that religious workers can't sue for job discrimination never specified whether that includes teachers at religious schools.

Calvary Chapel of Thousand Oaks purchased Little Oaks School in 2009, and leaders told employees last year that they would need to provide a statement of faith and a reference from a pastor to renew their contracts.

The two teachers lost their jobs after refusing to provide the documents. After they threatened litigation, school leaders filed their own lawsuit in federal court in Ventura.

James A. Sonne, director of the Religious Liberty Clinic and a lecturer in law at Stanford University Law School, noted that the dispute comes just a year after the high court's ruling in the case of the Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School of Redford, Mich., which holds that religious workers can't sue for job discrimination.

The court refused to specify in that ruling what constituted a religious worker, leaving teachers uncertain of their status under the law.

Sonne said the question remains whether teachers are performing "ministerial duties."

"Churches have First Amendment rights to choose their ministers," Sonne said. "The question is how does that apply outside the liturgical setting? The area where that will be played out is in the religious school context."

The school and its owner say their right to hire teachers who share their beliefs is protected by the California Constitution, the U.S. Constitution's right of the free exercise of religion, and civil rights laws.

The school is incorporated as a for-profit entity, but church leaders said the school is operated not as a profit-generating entity but as a spiritual arm of the church. About 130 students in preschool through fifth grade are taught there.

The teachers, Lynda Serrano and Mary Ellen Guevara, are citing the state's Fair Employment and Housing Act, which prohibits religious discrimination with exemptions that do not include for-profit religious groups.

Sonne said a constitutional ruling under federal law would most likely trump a state provision, which may be the reason the church filed in federal court.

"We're a Christian school," the Rev. Rob McCoy, pastor of the church and headmaster of the school, told the Ventura County Star. "We were coming to the point where we were establishing a Christian curriculum. We wanted to make sure teachers subscribed to that faith."

Serrano, once director of the preschool, had been with the school since 2006. Guevara was hired in 2011.

"They did not believe they should be required to obtain a pastoral reference in order to continue their employment," their attorney, Dawn Coulson, wrote in a letter to church leaders.

The teachers lost their jobs. In the letter from Coulson, they said they were prepared to sue and were asking for $150,000 apiece from the school to settle the case.

Instead of settling, church and school leaders filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court, asking for an injunction that would prevent the teachers from filing their lawsuit in a different venue, the newspaper said. They wanted to make sure litigation took place in federal court.

Their suit names not only the two teachers but the law firm that represents them. It alleges the California Fair Employment and Housing Act is unconstitutional when used to restrict a religious school's hiring practices, even if the group is for-profit.
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I'm going to apply for a teaching job at a private Christian school, even though I'm Agnostic and I don't take religious schools seriously.

If they don't accept me because I admitted I do not go to church, do not want to share my religious beliefs, and do not want to teach children about religion, I'm not going to sue them.

It's a Christian school, a private school; they have certain rights.
Elraine Figarette's avatar

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Blood Valkyrie
I'm going to apply for a teaching job at a private Christian school, even though I'm Agnostic and I don't take religious schools seriously.

If they don't accept me because I admitted I do not go to church, do not want to share my religious beliefs, and do not want to teach children about religion, I'm not going to sue them.

It's a Christian school, a private school; they have certain rights.

I think much of the problem is that these two women are losing jobs they already had because their school got bought out by a religious organization.

That said, this is a religious organization, and they were told last year that they would need to provide proof of faith. That should have been enough time for them to seek employment elsewhere, possibly with the assistance of the school.
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Elraine Figarette
Blood Valkyrie
I'm going to apply for a teaching job at a private Christian school, even though I'm Agnostic and I don't take religious schools seriously.

If they don't accept me because I admitted I do not go to church, do not want to share my religious beliefs, and do not want to teach children about religion, I'm not going to sue them.

It's a Christian school, a private school; they have certain rights.

I think much of the problem is that these two women are losing jobs they already had because their school got bought out by a religious organization.

That said, this is a religious organization, and they were told last year that they would need to provide proof of faith. That should have been enough time for them to seek employment elsewhere, possibly with the assistance of the school.

The truth is that most Christianity is all like " I don't have to,.. cause the Bible says I don't have to prove it to anyone but God *smugness*"

So if the school didn't deal with all this between school years then they should cover this year.

If they dealt with this between years, then ... they wouldn't be teachers this year xp


If they waited until the teachers were working this year to do this, then they should pay the teachers the rest of the year but have them leave ( be it now or when the school year ends).







They should have let them go between school years mad Maybe let them stay on for one year with pay while they look for a new job.
This kind of whining is just greed at it's finest. Parents pay good money for a religious base education, especially in Southern California. I would be outraged if I found my kids weren't being taught the values and beliefs the school advertised to teach. If I had intended for my children to be educated in a non religious playing field, then I would have left them in public school system. And no, I don't believe a Non-Christian can share a Christian education (the same applies for other religions.) These teachers are expected to pray in class and to handle conflicts and concerns according to Christian values. If I were a parent, I wouldn't trust a teacher who wasn't a Christian to teach this.

It's sad, yeah, I agree, finding a new job sucks. But, that's what happens when you're not qualified for a job, you don't get the position. That's how life works. They gave a fair warning and their requests weren't outrageous. And I applaud these schools for trying to provide the best education possible according to the standards they preach. This happens far too often. Why do we have to sue everyone?
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Elraine Figarette
Blood Valkyrie
I'm going to apply for a teaching job at a private Christian school, even though I'm Agnostic and I don't take religious schools seriously.

If they don't accept me because I admitted I do not go to church, do not want to share my religious beliefs, and do not want to teach children about religion, I'm not going to sue them.

It's a Christian school, a private school; they have certain rights.

I think much of the problem is that these two women are losing jobs they already had because their school got bought out by a religious organization.

That said, this is a religious organization, and they were told last year that they would need to provide proof of faith. That should have been enough time for them to seek employment elsewhere, possibly with the assistance of the school.


I think they have a right to sue if that's the case, because if they are forcefully losing their jobs, they're also losing additional benefits if they had planned to work (or were working) long-term as teachers. For example, if you work at a specific company for over X amount of years, you get a pension or extra days off or even (for teachers) tenure. Moving schools/jobs means you lose those benefits you may have been working towards.

The school hired them - if providing religious documents was a requirement for employment this should've been a stipulation from the beginning of employment. Unless the teachers signed anything that said they understood they could be fired for not providing religious documentation, it's the school's fault for throwing this at them. So I think the fault lies more on the school than the teachers in this case. As long as the teachers are following the school's curriculum and adhering to the school's mission statement there shouldn't really be a problem. You don't even need to be Christian to be able to teach about Christianity. I've had plenty of christian science professors who were able to separate their personal/religious beliefs from their professional/work beliefs, and teach classes without problems.
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I THINK THE SCHOOL SHOULD BE ABLE TO HIRE ANYBODY THAT THEY WANT TO IF IT BOILS DOWN TO PROVIDING THE BEST POSSIBLE EDUCATION THAT THEY CAN ACQUIRE. THE RIGHT TO HAVE A GOOD EDUCATION FOR THE CHILDREN IS PARAMOUNT.
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Existential Existence
Elraine Figarette
Blood Valkyrie
I'm going to apply for a teaching job at a private Christian school, even though I'm Agnostic and I don't take religious schools seriously.

If they don't accept me because I admitted I do not go to church, do not want to share my religious beliefs, and do not want to teach children about religion, I'm not going to sue them.

It's a Christian school, a private school; they have certain rights.

I think much of the problem is that these two women are losing jobs they already had because their school got bought out by a religious organization.

That said, this is a religious organization, and they were told last year that they would need to provide proof of faith. That should have been enough time for them to seek employment elsewhere, possibly with the assistance of the school.


I think they have a right to sue if that's the case, because if they are forcefully losing their jobs, they're also losing additional benefits if they had planned to work (or were working) long-term as teachers. For example, if you work at a specific company for over X amount of years, you get a pension or extra days off or even (for teachers) tenure. Moving schools/jobs means you lose those benefits you may have been working towards.

The school hired them - if providing religious documents was a requirement for employment this should've been a stipulation from the beginning of employment. Unless the teachers signed anything that said they understood they could be fired for not providing religious documentation, it's the school's fault for throwing this at them. So I think the fault lies more on the school than the teachers in this case. As long as the teachers are following the school's curriculum and adhering to the school's mission statement there shouldn't really be a problem. You don't even need to be Christian to be able to teach about Christianity. I've had plenty of christian science professors who were able to separate their personal/religious beliefs from their professional/work beliefs, and teach classes without problems.
I don't think the article mentions whether or not they received the usual unemployment benefits, but of course they would lose whatever benefits they had as part of their jobs at the school. That comes with the whole "being fired" thing. As for your second paragraph, the school was bought out in 2009 by the religious organization that is now requiring proof of faith—meaning the conditions of employment when the two teachers first took jobs has changed. All teachers of the school are also now expected to perform religious duties in the classroom (prayer, etc), which could not legitimately be carried out by someone who doesn't believe in what they're doing and wouldn't be fair to the person doing it.

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