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If You’re a Catholic Church Employee, You Don’t Have as Many Rights

If You’re a Catholic Church Employee, You Don’t Have as Many Rights

Last year, the Catholic Church made headlines across the country as it refused contraception mandates in insurance coverage for employees, arguing that paying for birth control violated religious doctrine and this would constitute a breach of the First Amendment. The battle proved fierce with advocates from a number of sides weighing in on the subject, and noting that in many cases, employees of the Catholic Church are not themselves Catholic; can the Church impose its beliefs on them as part of their job?

It turns out that the Church kind of can as a private employer; the argument goes that people actively choose employment in Catholic schools, hospitals and other facilities, and have the option of not signing employment contracts that might include restrictive clauses. Not signing, of course, means that you won’t be able to take the job.

Last week, two notable cases of discrimination against Catholic employees came up in the news, one in New York and another in Ohio. Both highlighted the potential dangerous of working in Church-run facilities, and drew attention to the fact that the Church is one of the few organizations that has legal protections when it comes to imposing moral guidelines on employees. While other employers may present ethical standards (financial firms, for example, can include clauses in contracts covering legal obligations as well as company ethics on certain issues), they can’t tell their employees how to lead their lives, and the Church does.

In Ohio, Kathleen Quinlan was fired from her position as a first grade teacher at Ascension Catholic School after she became pregnant. Sounds like a clear cause of pregnancy discrimination and cause for legal action, but the Church says the fact that she was unmarried made her an unfit role model for her students, and thus the firing was justified. She’s suing the diocese, arguing that her firing violates the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, while the Church is defending itself under a “ministerial exception.” That’s right;  the Church can skate around anti-discrimination laws if it can find a religious reason, and it’s done just that before, with the blessing of no less than the Supreme Court.

Meanwhile, in New York, Mark Krolikowski was fired after 32 years of teaching after she was forced to come out as transgender to school officials. They called her “worse than gay” and informed her that she shouldn’t transition at work or appear as a woman, and then they released her from her duties. She’s suing for discrimination, because she’s fortunate enough to work in a region where gender is a protected employment class, something which is not the case across the U.S. The Church will undoubtedly pursue a ministerial exception in her case just as it has in similar discrimination suits.

Employees of the Catholic Church, whether or not they are Catholic, are stranded with few rights when it comes to employment disputes, because the Church has tremendous legal clout. It can afford to hire the attorneys needed to demonstrate and prove a ministerial exception, and it’s not afraid to throw its weight around in court to set precedents that will make future suits harder for employees to pursue.

Labor organizing and advocacy must include rights for employees in these situations, because a balance needs to be struck: while infringements on religious freedom shouldn’t be tolerated, neither should firings of competent, skilled, enthusiastic employees who don’t follow the teachings of a given faith, or who interpret it differently than Church leaders. That, too, is an infringement of religious freedom, after all.

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147 comments

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10:05AM PST on Feb 4, 2013

No sympathy. Everyone knows what Catholics believe; if you don't want to abide by their beliefs, don't work for them. It would be like me (veganish) going to work at a slaughterhouse and then whinging that they kill animals there.

4:20AM PST on Jan 28, 2013

When you take a job at a catholic business, you know what they believe. You don't have to work there. If you don't like the benefits, get another job.

7:49AM PST on Jan 22, 2013

And that website is DEFINATELY biased!!!!!

7:46AM PST on Jan 22, 2013

And the website you recommended? It says emergency contraception a)prevents ovulation (which is how birth control pills work), b)blocks sperm from joining an egg, and c)prevents implantation of a fertilized egg. A direct contradiction of your own earlier comments.

7:39AM PST on Jan 22, 2013

Women are fully capable of making their own reproductive health-care choices and don't need "the church" to tell them what to do. Of course "the church" wouldn't have a problem with drugs that UNINTENTIONALLY cause miscarriage because they only care about controlling the choices women make, not the fate of an early pregnancy.

Get your facts straight Elizabeth MC, women take Ella and other emergency contraceptives BEFORE they are pregnant!!!! NOT DURING PREGNANCY!!!!!

12:41PM PST on Jan 19, 2013

sad :/

4:30PM PST on Jan 18, 2013

continued -

However, based upon how this drug worked in animals that were tested, it is reasonable to expect that ella would also have an abortive effect on early pregnancies in humans.)


The church believes that life begins at conception. Conception is defined as the moment an egg is fertilized. Ella may cause early abortion, in the eyes of the church, by preventing a fertilized egg from implanting. And it may cause a spontaneous abortion if deliberately taken while pregnant.

4:25PM PST on Jan 18, 2013

Sarah Lindsay,
If you're going to insult me, at least know what you're talking about.
This non partisan website explains Ella in a way that I hope you can understand it.

http://www.optionline.org/morningafterpill

(Can Plan B One-Step cause an abortion?
That depends upon how you define “life.” Some believe that pregnancy does not begin until a fertilized egg implants in the womb. However, the scientific reality is that at conception, many defining features are determined such as gender, eye color, and hair color and growth begins[5]. This is why many believe that conception is the starting point of a new human life. Taking Plan B® after the sperm has fertilized the egg may prevent this new life from settling into the womb (implantation) and continuing to grow, which is why many consider it an early abortion[6].)

(It is important to know that ella is a chemical cousin to the abortion pill Mifeprex, which is also called RU-486. ella and Mifeprex both work by blocking progesterone, which is a hormone needed for the establishment and maintenance of a pregnancy. When progesterone is blocked, the embryo is prevented from attaching to the uterus. If the embryo is already attached to the uterus, then the connection to the womb is dissolved and the embryo detaches and dies. This is clearly an abortion. Only limited studies were done with women who were early in pregnancy.
However, based upon how this drug worked in animals that were tested, it is reasonabl

1:12PM PST on Jan 18, 2013

Elizabeth MC, the morning after pill is taken to prevent pregnancy, not end it. Changing what "abortion" and "pregnancy" mean to fit your views makes you sound like you don't what you're talking about.

3:56AM PST on Jan 18, 2013

Elaine,

It's true that the Church had condoned abortion until the fetus "quickened," meaning the time when a pregnant woman first feels the unborn child moving. But that was over a hundred years ago.

Since 1896 the doctrine has been that the soul enters the body at the moment of conception.


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