Christian School Wins Legal Battle Against Teachers Fired for Refusing to Affirm Their Faith

School Bible pdTHOUSAND OAKS, Calif. — A Christian school in California has won a complicated legal battle regarding two teachers who sued the school after their contracts weren’t renewed as they refused to provide proof of their Christian faith.

Little Oaks Elementary School is a pre-k through 5th grade institution owned by Calvary Chapel of Thousand Oaks. As previously reported, the church purchased the school in 2009, and in 2012, required all teachers to complete a form affirming their faith in Christ as a part of the renewal of their teaching contract.

However, two of the teachers, Lynda Serrano and Mary Ellen Guevara, refused to submit the document, which in addition to outlining a statement of faith, mandates that a pastor attest to their church attendance and Christian beliefs.

Because the women would not obtain the required pastoral reference as a part of the renewal process, they were both dismissed from their jobs. One of the teachers had been hired prior to Calvary Chapel’s purchasing of the facility.

The women then threatened to sue the school after being fired, stating that they were being discriminated against.

“They did not believe they should be required to obtain a pastoral reference in order to continue their employment,” Dawn Coulson, attorney for the teachers, wrote in a letter to officials at Calvary Chapel.

In court, Coulson argued that because the organization was not set up as a non-profit entity, although it is owned by a church, it should not be permitted to require teachers to submit pastoral references.

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However, attorneys for Little Oaks Elementary School noted that federal case law affirms the right of religious organizations to set their own criteria for who they will and will not employ, and to make hiring decisions consistent with their faith.

On Monday, Ventura County Superior Court Judge Henry Walsh agreed with the school, citing the ministerial exception in the law. While the teachers themselves were not ordained ministers, attorneys for Little Oaks Elementary School had contended that they still served in a ministerial capacity in training the children in Christianity.

“[T]he ministerial exception is constitutionally compelled and arises out of the Establishment and Free exercise clauses of the First Amendment,” he wrote. “It is based on the concept that secular courts will not attempt to right wrongs related to hiring, firing, discipline or administration of clergy. It extends to church related institutions which have a substantial religious character, which includes church-related schools.”

Attorneys for the school state that they are pleased with the outcome of the case.

“We are grateful that this Court has chosen to protect the liberty of Little Oaks School,” commented attorney James Long in a press release on Wednesday. “It only makes sense that a Christian school has the constitutional right to require that its teachers provide a reference from a pastor.”

“This case is a great example of why we need to continue to stand for religious liberty regardless of the cultural climate,” added Robert Tyler, general counsel of the Christian legal group Advocates for Faith & Freedom. “We can win as long as we show-up to defend our constitutional rights.”

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  • Better AndBetter

    But firing a fundy because you don’t agree with their death cult is forbidden in law. Religious hypocrisy reigns again. Always pathetic.

  • RWH

    Something is unclear about this article. Was it that these teachers were part of the staff of a school and were competent employees, and then the school merged with this particular church, and the employees were considered no longer competent? If this is so, the two ladies didn’t have a leg to stand on. When schools merge, policies and procedures become void, and the faculty is then under those policies and procedures of the new governing institution. This happens with any merger. The religious issue is, in reality, only a side issue. The new governing board is under no obligation to provide a place for every teacher in the school that is being merged, and, in reality, it’s a situation where each of the teachers needs to be formally rehired under the new setup.

  • Fat Messiah

    Deleting legitimate posts, folks? Did I hit a nerve?

    This is BLATANT HYPOCRISY. I cannot fire a christian because I disagree with their religion, yet this is OK?

    Such hypocrisy will be the downfall of religious privilege in America.

    You folks sure do ban easy… can’t stand disagreement?

    NO problem… no problem at all!

  • Marvels of life

    I think this is an example of Christians who provide education to their children (paid by the way) by teaching Christian values along with teaching children the ABC’s, 123’s necessary to continue the educational goals of parents, teachers, and the children. As more and more public schools have to battle against the FFRA and other groups over issues such as ‘under God’ in the preamble. I hope very much that more and more church’s use the rights of religion to provide schooling for our children. There is a big movement by Christians to say no more. Hate, anger, and confusion has no place in education, and yet it happens more often now then ever. I believe its time for it to stop. When you have a Satanist group forcing a public school to stop the use of Bibles by threatening to post cult like literature, something has got to change. If you believe in Christ, I don’t see any reason not to express it, or sign a form especially in a school sponsored by a group of Christian people. That would go for these two teachers.

    • Disqusdmnj

      If a public school allows people to hand out Bibles, then they must also allow the distribution of Torahs, Qurans, Satanist books, etc. That’s an all-or-nothing affair… either extend the ability to everyone, or deny it to everyone. This article seems like it’s tackling a far different issue of employment. Beyond that, if you work for a school designated as part of a church and that does not receive public funding, then they should be able to hire and keep employed whomever they choose.

      • Marvels of life

        I think that was my point in a way. However you will see that not all public schools feel that way. An example may be the article about the public school that announces messages from the Bible. I’m sure there are many more public schools that allow for Christian clubs, groups etc, that don’t apply to distribution as much as joining a particular group of like minded teens in most cases. I don’t think in my own personal experience that is a problem. I don’t remember in the article if they received public funding, but at the local levels sometimes they do. However to enroll a student into one of these schools it is expected that the teachers have similar (in this case) Christian belief systems which is a part of the education process. I know in my area there are schools that are funded by the Roman Catholic church, which interact with other public school programs such as sports etc. and it considered public, although I don’t know if they have funding from a government source ( I don’t believe they do)

        Thanks for your comment.

        • Disqusdmnj

          Allowing for clubs for different religions is one thing – again, allow one… allow them all. Announcing Bible messages in a public school though is a no-no, in clear violation the separation of Church and State.

          Or, at least, allowable if you also allow Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, etc, to do the same.

          At this point, let’s just get our kids to learn some math and good writing skills, and the rest should be taught at home! 😉

          • Marvels of life

            I’m just explaining what is happening right now related to the articles I’ve read. I will say this. I applaud the young lady that won a contest in court from the FFRA in which she went to court to keep “under God” in the preamble at her school. Continuing to try and remove God from schools is something I don’t believe in. Sure Muslims, Jews, people that have religious beliefs should be able to form (and do) the same groups that Christians do. There is no mandate concerning groups within a public school, in fact the Freedom of Religion restoration act federally was part of the reasoning behind schools developing clubs for religious study, as well as chess clubs etc. I don’t see that as a problem. You may say it was a no-no but when it was reported, (and the article is on CNS) they did not remove the messages. It would be appropriate probably to read the article to gain the context of it.
            Your opinion is certainly noted. I find there are many resources for the rest, and when the parents are receptive to those ideas for their children, they have every right to seek them out and utilize them as they see fit for their children. Thanks again for your comment.