Thursday, April 26, 2012
Catholic school firing of teacher may focus attention on "reasonableness" of religious teachings, even by mainstream values
A Catholic school (high school) teacher, Emily Herx, was fired from her job after telling her employer, the St, Vincent de Paul School in Fort Wayne, IN, governed by the Catholic Diocese, that she was using sick time to take fertility treatments. She had a medical condition that prevented him from becoming pregnant “naturally”. But she was trying to have a child with a married husband in a traditional family.
The Church claims she signed a contract to honor Catholic teachings, and having conception from any source other than marital intercourse is a “sin”. (Conversely, the Vatican insists that access to sexuality in any fashion outside of marriage and without openness to procreation is a “sin”, an idea that many scientists say does not comport with the way nature evolved).
Her pastor said she was a “sinner”.
She is suing the diocese, but previous Supreme Court rulings suggest religious organizations can fire people for not obeying religious rules.
She says she teaches only “language and literature” but not church doctrine.
The libertarian position here is interesting. If an employer is allowed to dismiss people for behavior inconsistent with its values, then the public is more likely to question whether these values make sense when publicity for the dismissal occurs. Many people will learn about this case and react with the belief that Catholic teachings in this matter seem unreasonable, even according to mainstream notions about family. (The Vatican is, of course, very determined to defend its authoritarianism on church teaching, and demands that everyone bear his own crosses to follow it.) But in the past, of course, government and “religious values” could collude to monopolize the message being passed.
I have tended to look at this sort of thing as an ethical “conflict of interest”. When I was working on my 1997 book very critical of the military’s ban on gays (and “don’t ask don’t tell” policy), I was working for an insurance company whose most visible line of business was sale of life insurance to military officers. I felt that I should not continue earning my living from such a source. Fortunately, after a merger, I found another position in the company in another city (Minneapolis) that did not create such a conflict.