January 2004 Church & State | People & Events

A teacher in Delaware is suing the Diocese of Wilmington after she was fired from her job at a Catholic girls' school for publicly backing legal abortion.

Michele Curay-Cramer was dismissed last year after her name appeared in an advertisement supporting legal abortion that ran in a local newspaper. Curay-Cramer's attorney, Thomas Neuberger, contends that Ursuline Academy, by firing the teacher for speaking out on an issue of interest to women, ran afoul of federal laws banning discrimination on the grounds of sex.

"We are all equal under the law," Neuberger said. "You can't get rid of people because they've spoken out about the rights of women. That's sex discrimination."

School officials say their decision is protected by the First Amendment.

"Basically, we see it as a completely unjustified attack on the school's right to have its principles upheld by its teachers," said Barry Willoughby, an attorney for Ursuline Academy. "What she did is fundamentally at odds with what the church teaches and what the school is trying to instill in young students."

Religious schools usually win such cases. Courts have tended to rule that religious schools, as private entities, have the right to hire and fire whomever they choose and impose religious qualifications for employment.

Church-state separationists say these types of cases are relevant in the battle over voucher aid to religious schools. Employment discrimination, they say, should not be underwritten with taxpayer funds.

An Associated Press story about Curay-Cramer's case cited several recent incidents with similar facts, among them:

Kentucky: Angel Meacham, a fifth-grade teacher at St. Joseph School in Crescent Springs, was fired in August after she divorced and remarried. Diocesan officials fired Meacham after they learned she had remarried in a Presbyterian service without obtaining an annulment of her first marriage.

Connecticut: Two teachers at Lauralton Hall, an all-girls Catholic school in Milford, were fired after school officials learned that both are lesbians who planned to have a commitment ceremony.

Ohio: Elementary school teacher Vicki Manno was fired from St. Felicitas School in Euclid after she divorced and remarried without first obtaining an annulment.