In an extremely unusual case, Cathy Samford, a Dallas area HS volleyball coach and science teacher was fired for becoming pregnant before she was married, according to Yahoo News.
Samford had been the volleyball coach at Rockwall Heritage Christian Academy in Texas for the past 3 years, during which she had been named the school's coach of the year.
Unfortunately for Samford her successes on the court could not save her job, as the Christian school asserted a "morals clause" in her employment contract as its reason to terminate her employment when she admitted to be being pregnant during the fall semester.
Officials at Rockwall Heritage Christian Academy determined that becoming pregnant out-of-wedlock established that Samford was not fit to serve as "a Christian role model" and accordingly fired her pursuant to the morals clause.
"I looked it up and thought, 'They can't do this,'" said Samford, 29. "We all have different views and interpretations. It's not necessarily the Christian thing to do to throw somebody aside because of those," she added.
Although a potential discriminatory lawsuit seems like it would be a slam-dunk at first look, the possible cause of action is made complicated by the fact that Heritage Christian Academy is a private rather than a public school.
The United States Supreme Court has granted greater deference to private school hirings and firings because those school's consider teachers to be "ministers in the classroom."
Heritage Christian Academy headmaster Dr. Ron Taylor, believes that the school rightfully discharged Samford in compliance with Supreme Court case-law. "The Supreme Court, as a matter of fact in the last month, has ruled 9-to-0 that a Christian school does have that right, because this is a ministry, so we have the right to have standards of conduct," he said.
Taylor added,"[h]ow's it going to look to a little fourth-grade girl that sees she's pregnant and she's not married?"
Taylor also acknowledged that the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission had contacted the school.
Further, the parties attempted to mediate the case, but negotiations came to an abrupt halt as the school refused to settle the case.
Samford and her lawyer, Colin Walsh, have considered filing a discrimination suit against the school, but have yet to file a formal complaint because of the complicated constitutional issues surrounding it.
For now, Samford has been stripped of her medical insurance benefits as a result of her discharge and is in dire financial straits as she stands ready to give birth to her child.
This is an unfortunate case. Federal courts are always reluctant to delve into religious issues because they do not want to have to be the final arbiters of an institution's religious doctrine.
However, for both Samford and the baby's sake, hopefully Walsh can come up with a legal theory that can pass constitutional muster.
What do you think?
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