The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Cincinnati expects to go to trial soon to defend the 2010 firing of an unmarried teacher who used artificial insemination to get pregnant.
Religious freedom advocates say the case could clarify the rules when faith-based employment decisions collide with anti-discrimination laws.
In last year's landmark Hosanna-Tabor v. EEOC ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously said a "ministerial exception" exempts religious employers from federal employment and disability laws.
But the ruling hasn't stopped lawsuits against churches and Christian schools for morals-related firings. Legal experts don't see a spate of recent suits in Texas, Florida, and Georgia as a trend—but they do consider them a harbinger of a coming wave.
"I would predict there will be more over time," said Eric Rassbach, deputy general counsel for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. "You'll get more people who think it's perfectly fine to co-habitate and are genuinely surprised that a church employer feels otherwise."
Given this situation, Christian institutions must regularly update lifestyle covenants, said Tom Cathey, director of legal issues for the Association of Christian Schools International. Cathey counsels his 25,000 member schools to be forthright with staff about moral expectations and causes for dismissal.
"If their lifestyle agreements fit within the definition of church autonomy, then they'll absolutely win," said University of Missouri law professor Carl Esbeck.
Those who get sued shouldn't panic either, since many cases fizzle or settle in pre-trial proceedings.
The latter is common, said Stanley Carlson-Thies, president ...1
Already a CT subscriber? Log in for full digital access.
Subscribe to Christianity Today and get access to this article plus 60+ years of archives.
- Home delivery of CT magazine
- Complete access to articles on ChristianityToday.com
- Over 120 years of magazine archives plus full access to all of CT’s online archives
- Learn more