June 2012 Church & State | Editorial


Private religious schools don’t play by the same rules as public schools.

We all know that religious schools can indoctrinate students by requiring them to take part in sectarian activities every day. What’s often overlooked is the fact that many religious school employees have virtually no job security. Employees with religious responsibilities can be fired for just about any action that offends the clergy who run those institutions.

 In a recent case from Fort Wayne, Ind., teacher Emily Herx was terminated from St. Vincent de Paul Catholic School after officials learned she had used in vitro fertilization to conceive. (The church does not approve of that medical procedure, saying it results in the destruction of human embryos.) Despite her stellar performance reviews, Herx was sent packing – even though she teaches only secular subjects and was not responsible for religious instruction.

She’s not the only one. In Missouri, a teacher was fired from a Catholic school after he married his same-sex partner in New York. In Georgia, a Christian academy handed a pink slip to a teacher after learning that she had become pregnant before marriage. An unmarried Ohio woman was fired from a Catholic school when she used artificial insemination to become pregnant.

Religious groups that run schools argue that they must have complete autonomy to hire and fire at will; in a recent decision, the Supreme Court agreed with them, at least as it relates to employees who perform religious functions.

Yet even as they demand this right, sectarian schools are also seeking access to the public purse.

In Indiana, where Emily Herx was so shabbily treated, vouchers are now provided statewide under a new law. This means taxpayers are being compelled to prop up a religious school system that not only promotes religion but that openly discriminates and where staff can be fired for any number of “moral” offenses.

In Indiana and other states, religious schools are demanding taxpayer support and an absolute right to be free from any government oversight or regulation – even rules designed to protect employees. This goes too far.

Americans United believes that religious schools should never receive taxpayer support. The recent round of private school firings is additional evidence why this is so: It forces all of us to subsidize discrimination.

Private religious schools may have the right to engage in open forms of discrimination and run roughshod over employee rights. They have no right to expect all Americans to pay for it.