Wednesday, April 11, 2012

If you don't stand for something...

In my job, I have to keep track of the law with regard to employment in Catholic schools and other Catholic organizations. I frequently get phone calls from such organizations when they are interested in terminating their employment of someone, for any number of reasons. I give them my opinion on whether they may face a lawsuit or whether they will be liable to pay unemployment compensation. Naturally, every case is different, and my opinions vary with the facts. The law that gets applied varies with the facts also.

One recent Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) employment law case that has made national news is known as the Hosanna-Tabor case. It was a rare unanimous (9-0) decision by the Court, which came down on January 11, 2012. The Court said that a religious organization, like the Lutheran school in the case, can decide for itself which of its employees are ministers and, thus, who falls within the ministerial exception and is not subject to anti-discrimination laws.

Naturally, there are always nuances to every SCOTUS opinion. Lawyers talk about the "four-corners" of a case, which basically means that the law gets applied only to, and the judge or jury's decision should be based upon, the facts as they occurred in the case. If a later, similar fact-pattern in another case does not fall within the four-corners, then it may warrant a different decision.

The Hosanna-Tabor decision most surely will be put to the test in the next year or so. There are two cases in the news that have the potential to fall between the cracks and require a separate analysis of their facts. The Court's decision may come down differently if the case reaches that level.

The first is a case out of Dallas that involves a volleyball coach who got pregnant out of wedlock. The Christian school where she was employed invoked the morals clause in its employment contract with her and fired her. She seemed surprised that this was done. She has an attorney and is mulling over a lawsuit because she no longer has health insurance and is in her third trimester of pregnancy. There are so many things that I could say about this, but for now I will refrain, other than to say Good for the school. Religious organizations have been bullied into silence for far too long.

The second case that will get more air time in coming months, and which has already merited a troubling decision from a Cincinnati judge, is that of a Catholic school teacher who was fired because she got artificially inseminated and is unmarried. One interesting facet of this case is that there are so many various media spins on the story. Take for example, the British secular version of the events.  

Note to Readers: Don't just zip over the links here. Go to them and read through these stories, as it is a lesson in how the media can persuade and influence public opinion on a case by slanting the story to suit their desired outcome.

Now, compare this nominally Catholic version of the same events, and notice how the writer comes out scolding the school for--in the writer's skewed vision--not practicing what it preaches. 

Then, for a third take on this Ohio story, read the Motley Monk's view on it. (I started following him tonight, as he has some great posts.) It is refreshing for me to see a Catholic religious who has conservative CATHOLIC values at heart.

I just find it so unsavory to read stories where writers try to lay a guilt trip (read "bully-bashing") on Catholic employers for enforcing the beliefs of the Faith. On the one hand, last year the federal government told two  Catholic universities that they are not Catholic enough (St. Xavier and Manhattan College), but then when Catholic schools stick to their Catholic beliefs, they are told they are not Christ-like enough. It's time to stop trying to please everyone. As the old saying goes, If you don't stand for something, you will fall for anything.

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