Heritage Christian Academy fired a teacher and coach, 29-year-old Cathy Samford, after discovering that she had become pregnant while unmarried. Samford was in her third year as a volleyball coach and her first as a middle school science teacher at the private Rockwall, Texas, school when she approached school officials in the fall of 2011 to tell them she was pregnant. Samford had also been planning to coach basketball and wanted to let officials know that she would be missing part of the season. Instead, school authorities told her that she was terminated.
As Samford told ABC News, she was “totally shocked.” She and her fiancé had planned to get married at the end of the summer of 2011 but the wedding had been delayed. Samford also has two young children and now, without a job and health insurance, is paying for everything “out of pocket.”
On being told by Heritage Christian Academy officials that she was fired, Samford emphasized that she and her fiancé “were going to get married regardless.” The school’s headmaster Dr. Ron Taylor said that the “issue” for Samford being fired was her “behavior out of wedlock” as well as her “being an unmarried mother.” He continued:
“Everything that we stand for says that we want our teachers, who we consider to be in the ministry, to model what a Christian man or woman should be.”
In speaking to ABC News, Samford took especial issue with Taylor saying that she was not a “Christian role model.” As she said:
“I’m not just some teacher that went out to a bar and go pregnant and went back to school saying it’s okay. I was in a committed relationship the whole time and probably would have been married if things had gone differently and this would be a non-situation.”
Samford has filed a charge of gender and pregnancy discrimination with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and is also filing a lawsuit against Heritage Christian Academy. According to the Huffington Post, the school is so far refusing to settle.
As Samford’s attorney, Colin Walsh points out, it is simply “against the law to fire someone for them taking a pregnancy leave.” Being “generally religious or upholding Christian values,” as Heritage Christian Academy proclaims itself to be, is not sufficient grounds to “evoke the ministerial exception,” says Walsh.
Samford’s case recalls those of two other teachers who have faced similar discrimination from religious schools. An appeals court in Atlanta is currently hearing the case of fourth-grade teacher Jarretta Hamilton, who was fired after the principal at the non-denominational Christian school she taught at learned that she had become pregnant prior to getting married. The Archdiocese of Cincinnati fired Catholic school teacher Christa Dias in 2010 after learning that she had conceived through artificial insemination; a federal judge is now allowing her suit against the Archdiocese to go forward.
Just today, April 12, Catholic bishops issued a proclamation in the name of “religious liberty.” Since earlier this year, the bishops have been up in arms over the requirement in the health reform law that insurance plans at Catholic educational institutions and hospitals must provide coverage for birth control. The firing of Samford, Hamilton and Dias show how bishops and conservative religious leaders are determined to have the final say about women’s health and, indeed, women’s lives — we need to take a stand against such discrimination.
Samford says that students, volleyball team members and parents have all been supportive of her. As she says to ABC News:
“They know me. I’m not someone who goes out and parties and is crazy and gives bad advice, trying to lead them in a certain direction. It just kind of hurts my heart a little bit.”
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