Wednesday, June 07, 2006

3rd Circuit Decision: Catholic School OK in Firing Pro-Abort Employee

An excerpt from the story is below...

A former Catholic school teacher who was fired for expressing her support of abortion rights in a newspaper ad that ran on the 30th anniversary of Roe v. Wade may not sue the school under Title VII because such a claim would force the courts to rule on the validity of a religious institution's beliefs, the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled.

In its 22-page opinion in Curay-Cramer v. The Ursuline Academy of Wilmington, the court rejected the plaintiff's argument that Title VII's "opposition clause" protects any employee who has had an abortion, who contemplates having an abortion or who supports the rights of women who do so.

"We are not aware of any court that has found public protests or expressions of belief to be protected conduct absent some perceptible connection to the employer's alleged illegal employment practice," Senior U.S. Circuit Judge Jane R. Roth wrote.

In the suit, Michele Curay-Cramer said she was fired from her post as an English and religion teacher at the Ursuline Academy, a private preparatory school for girls, when she refused to publicly recant her support of abortion rights.

Curay-Cramer was one of more than 600 people -- including Delaware Gov. Ruth Ann Minner -- who signed onto a Jan. 22, 2003, ad in the Wilmington News-Journal that said abortion rights were "under attack" and urged "all Delawareans and elected officials at every level to be vigilant in the fight to ensure that women now and in the future have the right to choose."

The suit said Curay-Cramer was told she could keep her job if she publicly recanted her pro-choice stance. She declined to do so and was fired Jan. 27, 2003.
She then filed a sex discrimination suit, but U.S. District Judge Kent A. Jordan dismissed it, finding that it would violate the Catholic Church's right to the free exercise of religion to interpret Title VII as preventing a Catholic school from disciplining a religion teacher for publicly repudiating one of the Roman Catholic Church's central tenets.

"Short of a declaration that the pope should pass draft encyclicals through the courts for approval, it is hard to conceive of a more obvious violation of the free exercise rights of the Catholic Church or a clearer case of inappropriate entanglement of church and state," Jordan wrote...

..."If a religious employer does not offer a religious justification for an adverse employment action against a nonministerial employee, it is unlikely that serious constitutional questions will be raised by applying Title VII," Roth wrote. Roth's opinion was joined by Circuit Judge Julio M. Fuentes. The late Judge Edward R. Becker was also on the panel when the case was argued in January, but died before the opinion was handed down...