Pregnant and fired

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

to comment.

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.

  • Al Heebsh

    It is important to notice that the Catholic church has now taken a job from a pregnant woman, making it all the more difficult for her to support her child. This will presumably also result in the loss of her health care coverage. This is typical of Catholic church heirarchy practice. They unceasingly condemn abortion while doing little to help those who become pregnant and are in need. I am Catholic and thoroughly opposed to abortion, but I am also appalled by this thoroughly un-Christian action taken by the Catholic church. Why are the anti-abortion protesters not standing outside the doors of the priest and bishop demanding that this woman be given her job back?

  • Eric Schubert

    1. I wonder how many teachers at that school signed the statement and had premarital sex, but are great role models today?

    2. Doesn’t this teacher get extra credit for not aborting the baby?

    3. I wonder how many children in that school were outcomes of premarital sex; should we find out and expel them or at least hang them by their toes until they say they repent for their parents’ sins?

    4. I wonder how many children who are graduates of that school have had premarital sex, but have raised wonderful families? I think we need blood tests with communion.

    . . . The Catholic Church does so many good things and then it takes a cannon and just shoots itself in the foot.

  • Joel

    The school has a right to enforce a policy that the teacher would agree has been violated (if she disputed whether premarital sex violated the “Witness Statement” it would be a different story. In answer to the points made above.

    1. If the school was aware of these violations I would expect them to take the same action, they would have the option of privately reprimanding the teacher if there was not a pregnancy, but how can you expect your teacher to teach kids premarital sex is wrong and then attempt to explain her pregnancy to them without ruining the student/teacher trust based relationship. I wouldn’t want to be the teacher in that situation and this may be why she has agreed to resign.

    2. No, it is assumed by both parties that she will not be aborting the baby. The church certainly wouldn’t say if you abort the baby you can keep your job.

    3. Since when did children inherit their parents sins. If you believe that then newborns would have a lot of research to do to make sure that all of their ancestors sins had been officially repented.

    4. … seriously read that again … I’m not sure how to come up with a counterpoint to that without getting too far off topic. In brief, I agree people who don’t abide by signed contracts are capable of raising families and passing blood tests???

    The Catholic church follows its own policies once and a while and should be encouraged to continue this behavior.

    (slightly tongue in cheek and sorry if anyone takes offense but /shrug)

  • Al Heebsh

    Remind me, what did Jesus do in the temple when he was presented with the prostitute for punishment?

  • minn whaler

    Has the Catholic church stopped believing in the concept of immaculate conception? (tongue way in cheek)… but there is such a thing as conceiving without sex nowadays..

    just get a donation from a sperm bank..

  • Lily

    Let s/he who is without sin cast the first stone.

    Jesus taught that the greatest commandment was to Love one another. I believe that she could have been an excellent role model, could have taught about mistakes, forgiveness, and moving on.

    But, then I guess that is why I am a recovering Catholic. I moved on………..

    Shame on all you God fearing Catholics. Look at what you are REALLY teaching your kids.

  • Joel

    Lets not just condemn Catholics on this point there are plenty of Christian colleges in the twin cities that are not affiliated with Catholicism that require teachers and students to sign an agreement to abide by a moral code of some sort. I’m sure we can find plenty of examples of students and teachers expelled/fired from their schools because they got pregnant out of wedlock.

    Private institutions are allowed to set high moral standards for their students/faculty. That’s what the parents who send their children there expect and it is the school officials obligation to enforce. If there was not a religious affilliation in this story it wouldn’t raise as much ire as it seems to be doing.

  • Nancy

    IF Jobless and with no health insurance, the teacher might find herself with few alternatives and choose to terminate the pregnancy.

    The lesson in tonight’s Lenten Service was based on Matthew 18:21. Is this missing from the Catholic Bible?

  • GregS

    This is a tough case.

    Obviously the school did not handle it well. On the other hand, who is important here? I would hope that we could all agree it is the kids.

    What are the messages being sent?

    The firing sends the message of integrity, following through on one’s word, and the consequences of action.

    Not firing the teacher sends the message of compassion but it also negates the messages listed above.

    I would have hoped the school could have sent both messages, taking the teacher at her word, demonstrating that there are consequences by firing her but finding another position for the teacher to demonstrate the message of compassion.

  • c

    Not all Catholic schools would behave in that fashion.

    I believe that there are still some Catholics out there who do not choose to judge but choose love.

    Here is a new Mother-like Mary and her story goes on to say that Joseph believed in her and accepted her. This mother is alone right now. She needs love and support.

    I think that the Archdiocease should take a closer look at what their “Catholic” schools are doing.

  • GregS

    Why am I not stunned that everyone seems to be reserving their compassion for this woman and refusing to address the national crisis of illegitimacy?

    There are more characters in this morality play than an employer and a teacher.

    Let us not forget the child, a child who (most likely) will grow up apart from a father.

    Let us not forget about the father who (most likely) will live apart from his child.

    Let us not forget about the subsequent children of a father who will pay 25% of his income for the next 18 years in child support. Money that will always come out of his check FIRST regardless of the needs of subsequent children.

    We have spent $TRILLIONS in public funds on the estimated 2 million children born out-of-wedlock. What about the other children and deserving causes that have need of that money?

    Compassion is in order, but so is sanity.

    Excuse me, but I believe the church is the only one in this case who is acting responsibly — though they could have found a more politic way to handle this situation.

  • bsimon

    Ms Prigge’s error was in resigning. Based on what we know, the school did not define what it means to be a “good example as a Christian.” That kind of vague language in a contract is unenforceable, and therefore is null and void. However, by voluntarily resigning, Ms Prigge has apparently forfeited her right to fight the school on the subject. It also seems that she is being punished for doing the right thing – and warning her employer of her pregnancy – though the law requires her to do no such thing. The school then chose to ignore its own requirement to set a good Christian example (which presumably includes forgiveness and tolerance, among other things), and tossed her out on her ear. Perhaps if they thought she was unfit to teach, they could have reached an accomodation where she would finish the school year, rather than creating a big to-do, that I now imagine the school might regret causing.

  • c


    the NATIONAL CRISIS of illegitamacy.

  • Lily

    All children are legitimate!

  • GregS

    Perhaps the public radio audience would be more outraged had the teacher lit up a cigarette.

  • GregS

    “All children are legitimate!”

    An excellent sentiment, but one that is oblivious to the problems faced by the 38% of children born into a single parent family.

    Liberals tend to believe the problem these children face can be dismissed by launching yet another federal, state or county program. I can understand the temptation and the selfishness that makes them feel this way, since the problems caused by single parent familes are the source of employment for so many of them.

    But when do we “think of the children?”

  • GregS

    Sure enough….

    A Michigan health-benefits company, Weyco, fired several workers for smoking, in violation of a company-wide rule against lighting up even during one’s off hours.

  • Bob Collins

    Two years ago, that happened and even the ACLU wouldn’t touch it.

    Of course, there are no “off hours” for an employer who is responsible for paying the health insurance of its employees.

    OTOH, there is the claim that over the long haul, smokers don’t cost society more money because they die sooner.

    Many companies, I notice are doing “background checks” of potential employees, including their credit rating. I’ve not been able to figure out what business it is of my employer to know my credit rating.

  • c

    Greg you have an interesting perception of how society should behave.

    Problem: Catholic school that enforces pro life behavior is punishing non married teacher for practicing “pro-life”. The teacher finds herself now unemployed-hence no income and stilll pregnant. What are her chances of finding a job right now. Should she phone Catholic Charities to come to her aid since her Catholic Employment chose to throw stones?

    REAL life scenario my friend: I am a single mom with a child in a catholic school. I worked at this Catholic school as a single mom for a couple months. There was no problem with this. I have never been married. I work, I pay my bills and in my free time I interact with my son. I have taken part in some state funded aid. When I have extra I try to share. I help/volunteer in programs THAT I BELIEVE IN. My son participates in sports and other activities. My son’s father has struggled financially and can’t pay child support.

    But My son is happy, healthy and well adjusted and I am happy and healthy and well adjusted

    so where’s this NATIONAL CRISIS?

  • GregS

    But My son is happy, healthy and well adjusted and I am happy and healthy and well adjusted so where’s this NATIONAL CRISIS?

    The national crisis is — 38% of children born out-of-wedlock. There are census blocks in Minnesota where upward of 90% of children do not live with their biological father.

    Anyone who believe that is not a “crisis” cares little for the kids who have to endure it.

    Suggesting that your situation does not constitute a crisis ignore the cumlative effects of million like you – many who do cause a crisis.

    Would you logic of “I ain’t the problem” apply just as readily to a SUV despite the global warming “crisis”?

  • Lisa P

    When a parent sends a child to a Catholic school it is with the expectation that both their intellectual education and their soul and spiritual formation will be attended to according to the precepts of the Church. The teacher who became pregnant did not have something *done* to her by the Church – she did this to herself. The formation of the children she is suppoed to be teaching is the important thing here. I can think of no one priest who would willingly endanger the souls of countless children and leave such a teacher in her position of authority. It has nothing to do with forgiveness. Forgiveness does not require that certain actions accompany it. There are consequences to all of our actions and this teacher knew darn well what she was signing up for when she accepted the job originally. We know nothing about the other circumstances surrounding this situation. For all we know, she is Catholic and was asked to resign as part of her absolution… or that there was no other position into which to move her without firing someone else from *their* job. I am saddened for everyone involved but to place blame on anyone other than the mother is just plain uncalled for. As for the quotes above regarding casting stones, etc. God does not implore us not to judge, he implores us not to be hypocrites.

  • c

    Bigger “WOW” than the last wow.

    Lisa P and Greg S-

    Jesus merely asked his apostles to go out and carry a message-to teach what Jesus had taught his disciples. There was no request that they build institutions with MAN-MADE rules. Jesus said LOVE.

    I am not BLAMING the catholic SCHOOL for this woman being in her predicament. I am pointing out that perhaps actions of love and kindness be shown to this woman. Such as, “How can we help you along with your pregnancy?” (Now that the reality is hear and there is no point in beating the dead horse of hindsight)

    Are Moms and Dads worried about Junior coming home with questions about an unmarried teacher and her being pregnant which violates THE CATHOLIC RULE.

    Do you think the kids would even notice this without the prompting of the parents in the first place of saying something about the pregnancy out of wedlock? It’s lunacy to teach love forgiveness and acceptance and then to go behave in the way that catholic school did.

    Greg-I am in no way saying that just becuase I am not doing it -your NATIONAL CRISIS doesn’t exist. What I am saying is that there are many happy and successful one-parent families in this society. The unsuccessful ones have other underlying issues involved such as perhaps drug addiction alcoholism depression…ect. There are many families, two parent familes where the children experience abuse, neglect, alcohlism and so on.

    My take on the whole situation is that we are here to help one another.

    In my opinion, this catholic school in Wabasha just back stepped every step forward that the Catholic Church has made since Vatican II. What’s next witch trials and hangings?

  • Catholic Mom

    Bob Collins…

    Here’s why you should say “YEAH SO???”

    Because…There is a male teacher in the same diocese that got his girlfriend pregnant…but of course – kept his job

    Because…The so-called “contract” is nothing more than a fluffy morality check that’s totally left up to interpretation. I assume your job contact may be a bit more clear cut than “Bob must be a good professional guy in his personal and professional life. 🙂

    HOW do you know what arguments she’s making. That was a careless comment…

  • Bob Collins

    I”m not familiar with the confirmation that the father is a teacher, nor that he’s in the same diocese. Can you provide it, please?

    Also the arguments in the New York city case are arguments that she is not making. She MAY make those arguments if and when she decides to seek some legal redress. But she is not yet making those arguments.

    I am attempting to talk to her and will explore these issues further.

    FYI, I don’t have a contract. MPR can get rid of me at any moment, for any reason.