Occasionally, there are news stories that come along that might make one initially sit up and say, “yeah, so?”
Here’s one today that fits the bill:
WABASHA, Minn. (AP) ― An unmarried fifth-grade teacher at a Catholic school in Wabasha is out of a job because she got pregnant.
Twenty-three year-old Emily Prigge of Lake City told her principal about her pregnancy last month. Prigge says the principal and a priest asked her to resign last week, and she did. Her pregnancy is about 15 weeks along.
Prigge was in her first year on the job at St. Felix school. When she took the job she signed a Catholic Christian Witness Statement, where she agreed to be a good example as a Christian in her personal and academic life. Prigge, who is Catholic, says she was told she didn’t live up to the statement because she had premarital sex.
Officials at the school and the Diocese of Winona have declined
Yeah, so…is it news that someone who violated a signed condition of employment gets fired? The comments section of the article in the Rochester Post Bulletin, which “broke” the story, suggests it’s gotten under some folks’ skin.
Back when I was in high school, the class president got pregnant, and had to leave school and she was not allowed to graduate with her class. And she was the mayor’s daughter. But that was a public school in 1972, and we can argue that public schools have no business bringing a religion-based doctrine into its employment policy.
The argument could be made here , however, that this is different. This is a teacher in a Catholic school, who is unmarried, and pregnant, in apparent violation of church doctrine. What’s more, the teacher doesn’t appear to be disputing the firing.
Something similar happened in New York back in 2005 and the New York Civil Liberties Union sued the school. An anti-abortion group, Feminists for Life, backed the woman’s complaint. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ruled the firing violated constitutional rights and urged the two sides to cut a deal outside of court.
Had it gotten to court, however, it likely would’ve run up against historical roadblocks. In 2006, the New York Times documented this in a story, “Where Faith Abides, Employees Have Few Rights.”
Religious employers have long been shielded from all complaints of religious discrimination by an exemption that was built into the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and expanded in 1972. That historic exemption allows them to give preference in hiring to candidates who share their faith. In recent years, some judges have also refused to interfere when religious groups have dismissed lesbians, unwed mothers and adulterous couples, even if they profess the same faith, because they have violated their employers’ religious codes.
In the New York case, William Donahue, the president of the Catholic League, defended the church’s stance, especially given that it involved a teacher. He made his comments in a November 2005 interview on CNN.
“Let’s say she’s working with Catholic Charities or working for — in the immigration office, and they fired her for this condition. I think then that could be problematic.
“But if you’re a teacher and you’re a role model, particularly with the little kids, how are you supposed to explain to the parents, by the way, who might say, ‘well, let’s see now, what’s the alternative?’ Let’s say if the school did nothing. How do you explain as the principal to those parents who are paying their money expecting that a teacher is going to teach religion and abide by it that you’re going to do nothing about it? You’re going to have a laissez-faire attitude.”
All of these, of course, are arguments Emily Prigge isn’t making.