Emily Herx, a former English teacher at St. Vincent de Paul School in Fort Wayne, Indiana, is suing the school and the Archdiocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend after she was fired due to receiving in vitro treatments. Herx says that she lost her job in 2011 after the school’s priest, Msgr. John Kuzmich, learned that she had begun treatments with a fertility doctor. Kuzmich told her that she was a “grave, immoral sinner” and that it would have been better if she had not discussed her fertility treatments because they could create a “scandal.” According to the complaint, Herx was told that some things are “better left between the individual and God.”
As Herx said to CNN, “I didn’t think I was doing anything wrong. I had never had any complaints about me as a teacher.” Herx had begun the treatments in March of 2010 and immediately told the school’s principal whose response was “‘You are in my prayers.’” Herx said that she took these words as “support.” More than a year later, she requested time off for her second treatment; only then did Kuzmich request to see her. Eleven days later, Herx was informed that her contract would not be renewed because of “improprieties related to church teachings or law.”
At issue is whether the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) applies to the employment, and the firing, of “ministerial employees.” Herx and her lawyer, Kathleen DeLaney, are arguing that, because she taught a secular subject (English) she should be exempt from the “ministerial exception.”
Some, including University of Notre Dame law professor Richard Garnett, say that simply because Herx was working at a Catholic institution, her undergoing in vitro treatments was in conflict with the teachings of the school. According to a statement from the diocese, in vitro fertilization is “not morally licit according to Catholic teaching” and, therefore, the “core issue” in the lawsuit is “a challenge to the diocese’s right, as a religious employer, to make religious based decisions consistent with its religious standards on an impartial basis.” Teachers working in the diocese are to “have a knowledge and respect for the Catholic faith, and abide by the tenets of the Catholic Church.”
But St. Vincent de Paul School had continued to employ Herx after she told the school’s principal in 2010 about receiving in vitro treatments. Only when she requested time off for a second treatment in the following year did the treatments become an issue, such that Herx was fired and the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend felt the need to invoke church teachings that had not previously been referenced. The monsignor telling Herx that she was a “grave, immoral sinner” for undergoing fertility treatments and that she could create a “scandal” was simply uncalled for.
Herx’s firing recalls that of Christa Dias, who was fired from her job in a Catholic school by the Archdiocese of Cincinnati in 2010 after it had learned that she had conceived through artificial insemination. A federal judge is now allowing Dias’ suit against the archdiocese to go forward.
Let us give our support to Herx and Dias in their lawsuits: Their firings are both examples of how conservative religious leaders seek to control women’s health, their lives and their bodies and of why we need to take a stand against yet another example of the war on women.
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