Teacher At Catholic School Allegedly Fired For Using IVF As “Grave, Immoral” Act

Emily Herx, a teacher at the St. Vincent de Paul school in Fort Wayne, Indiana, has sued the school and the Catholic Diocese, for allegedly firing her for using in vitro fertilization (IVF) to try to get pregnant. Herx (shown here with her husband) says that the local pastor told her that she was a “grave, immoral sinner” for using the process. It is another example of the growing tension between discrimination laws and religious freedom, the subject of a past column. The case could prove quite important in defining the outer reaches of the “ministerial exception” to anti-discrimination laws.


Herx, 31, had excellent performance evaluations for eight years as a language arts teacher.

In January, the Supreme Court ruled that religious workers can’t sue their employers for job discrimination because of the “ministerial exception.” The Court however left vague the scope of the exception, particularly who was deemed a religious employee.

The case was Hosanna-Tabor Church v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. That case involved a parochial school teacher in Redford, Mich., who was an ordained minister and performed “important religious functions.” However, most of their work was non-religious. Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for a unanimous Court (with two concurrences) saying that the exception applied.

I previously wrote a paper supporting such an exception in a book with Doug Laycock who argued the Hosanna-Tabor Church case: Jonathan Turley, “An Unholy Union: Same-Sex Marriage and the Use of Governmental Programs to Penalize Religious Groups with Unpopular Practices,” in Douglas Laycock, Jr., et al., eds., Same-Sex Marriage and Religious Liberty: Emerging Conflicts (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2008). Notably, Laycock publicly said that he did not believe that the ruling would support many teachers who did not teach religious subjects: “If he teaches theology, he’s covered. If he teaches English or physics or some clearly secular subjects, he is clearly not covered.”

Roberts however rejected the argument that the exception would only apply to those who performed “exclusively religious functions.” He held that “the Establishment Clause prevents the Government from appointing ministers, and the Free Exercise Clause prevents it from interfering with the freedom of religious groups to select their own.”

In a footnote, Roberts emphasized that this was not a sweeping exception and that the exception created “a defense on the merits.” As such, “District courts have power to consider [such] claims in cases of this sort, and to decide whether the claim can proceed or is instead barred by the ministerial exception.”

At the time, Justice Clarence Thomas warned that the Court was leaving the matter too ambiguous and that it was dangerous for the court to draw lines on the exception as opposed to a bright line rule:

Judicial attempts to fashion a civil definition of ‘minister’ through a bright-line test or multi-factor analysis risk disadvantaging those religious groups whose beliefs, practices, and membership are outside of the ‘mainstream’ or unpalatable to some. Moreover, uncertainty about whether its ministerial designation will be rejected, and a corresponding fear of liability, may cause a religious group to conform its beliefs and practices regarding ‘ministers’ to the prevailing secular understanding.”

This would be the perfect case to remove much of the ambiguity left by the decision. Here you have a person who was not a religion teacher and was not ordained. She taught only English. Under Laycock’s approach, she would fall outside of the exception. However, this still leaves the question of a religious organization’s ability to dictate compliance with the moral tenets that define the organization.

Pope Benedict XVI has spoken against Catholics using in-vitro fertilization or other forms of artificial procreation as against moral teachings and the institution of marriage.

Source: ABC

33 thoughts on “Teacher At Catholic School Allegedly Fired For Using IVF As “Grave, Immoral” Act”

  1. It was reported that a priest from the same school organization or Parish was seen outside the bathroom of a local gas station listening through the door for the sound of the condom machine being used and then watching to see if the parishoners emerged with condoms in their hands. The gas station countered by putting little rubber duckies in the machine as an alternate item. The little duckies started appearing in the collection plate on Sundays, along with some condoms.

  2. WWJD….. Its a long time since Jesus has actuality been connected with Christianity. Jesus should now be written…. Jesus ® or maybe Christ™ Christianity ©.

  3. Perhaps the church’s solution is for couple to adopt the child of a woman who is prevented from having an abortion.

    and what Think of the Children said.

  4. Justice Roberts went down the slippery slope of the Establishment Clause bifurcated by the Free Exercse Clause which is known in dog circles as the Sinter Klaus. The Germans invented Sinter Klaus to give out gifts to kids on December 5th to get them involved in the spirit of Xmas. They bifurcated the Klaus guy from Xmas Day so as not to confuse religion with other dogma. They used the dogma to promote the religion. Now, us dogs were always suspect of anything which humanoids termed dogma but we kept our growls to ourselves because there was usually a dog biscuit for the German Shepard on December 5th from Sinter Klaus. This particular plaintiff who gets fired for using science to try to get knocked up should think about employing the First Amendment and Ninth Amendment. The First Amendment gives her the right to assemble and to preach or discuss privacy concerns and the Ninth Amendment confers upon her the right of privacy. But what government interest is involved here if the church merely fires a teacher for trying to improve her chances of porking to procreate? Well, Justice Roberts old salt, the Civil Rights Act says that she has equal rights under law to enforce against a private entity violations of her civil rights and the EEOC employment statute says that she has rights to her job without discrimination on the basis of sex, religion. Now, Roberts counters that the church has the right to impose its relgion on its flock and this sheep can thus be fired for porking or procreating in the privacy of her own home and bedroom in a manner without their consent.

    Thanks to Justice Roberts: 1) Only the lame teachers, those without teaching certificates, or those too dumb to get jobs elsewhere will go to work for the Catoliks. 2) Colleges and Universities are going to start looking down at applicants from religious schools which teach such drivel and abuse their students and teachers. 3) Pedophelia will get a lease on life as a defense to criminal charges. God made me grab the weenie.
    The Roberts Court is pretty doggone stupid.

  5. ” (Primum non nocere) would propose we accept that even religious people should be mandated to adhere to the law. Even if they feel it might contradict their Holy Book ”

    That would be the other side of “the separation of church and state”. The state may not impose a religion upon people, but also no church may impose any legislation, or any exemption, on people.

  6. There is a lot of money to be made and power to enjoy in the Bible-based religions. Anyplace there is money and power (corporations, churches, government) we should not be surprised to learn that empathy-free, brutal behavior rises to the top and controls it. Because this isn’t about love or caring or sympathy or charity, it is about money and forced obeisance and subjugation. Live by their rules or be punished.

  7. “…this still leaves the question of a religious organization’s ability to dictate compliance with the moral tenets that define the organization.”

    Perhaps, in light of the similar problem with Catholic hospitals, we need to dictate what activities define “religious organization”. Running a house of worship obviously is a religious matter, running a school or a hospital is less clear.

  8. I’m a little surprised that the Catholic church would be opposed to anything that could possibly provide it with more little boys to prey on.

  9. rc – the Gandhi quote about liking Christ but not liking Christians because Christians were so unlike CHrist comes to mind so often these days.

    I always found it odd that people who think God decides who get to have babies, that they are all gifts even those left by a rapist, close relative or pedophile and only God gets to chose which ones live or die often support IV. If an abortion violates Gods will why doesn’t IV? I sort of applaud these crackpots at least maintaining that tiny bit of mental consistency.

  10. These days it seems the thing we see least often from Christians is Christ-like behavior.

  11. Let’s see, the seven deadly sins are usually given as wrath, greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy, and gluttony. To my mind, the Catholic church is guilty of six out of seven just on a cursory review: wrath against anyone who would not follow blindly; greed for their accumulation of wealth for the sake of it; sloth for their dragging their feet in matters centuries old; pride inasmuch as they believe they are the ‘superior’ faith; lust? Look at the pedophilia scandal; envy, oh, please…it permeates the culture. That leaves gluttony and I’ll give them a pass on that.
    Jesus warned the religious elite there would come a time at judgement when they would assume their salvation was guaranteed because of their religious works. His rebuke included something to the effect of: get away from Me, I never knew you. He then went on to say it was those who fed the hungry, nursed the sick and visited the prisoner who would join Him in Heaven.
    It’s gonna be real interesting to see who is included in the lambs and who is included in the goats.

  12. Since Freedom of Religion appears to be used as a Get-out-of-jail-free-card, i.e. it is used to immunise patently illegal behaviour (child abuse anyone), I would propose we accept that even religious people should be mandated to adhere to the law. Even if they feel it might contradict their Holy Book of Fables.

    In short, lawbreaking should not be allowed for anyone. As an aside this applies to US officials too (violating UNCAT, FISA, et cetera).

  13. “So you think the Emily Herx case is less about theology than about politics.

    I don’t think this story ever should have made the courts and the papers. It should have all been handled within that parish or school system. It’s less about in vitro fertilization and more about the HHS ruling on contraception. It’s more about why a lot of bishops didn’t support the Affordable Care Act. Firing Mrs. Herx probably wasn’t the wisest solution. It sounds to me like a Rick Santorum-like Catholic got in there and said, “Fire her!” If there weren’t that Catholic push toward narrowing the boundaries, I’m not sure this would have happened.

    I love the Church. I’m a happy priest. But I really think there’s a sect-like thing afoot, and I think Mrs. Herx got caught in it. It’s this idea of condemning, crushing, inhibiting, trying to put the lid back on. Some would say that Jesus engaged people rather than suppressing people. This is just another example of the Church battening down the hatches. Where it once wanted to engage people, it now wants to engage less. It feels that it may have given away too much. That’s what’s going on. ” From an interview with Fr. Sparks in the “Atlantic”.

  14. What Gene and Mespo said! This is an ideal example of the arrogance of the Catholic Church. Jesus would not recognize this church.

  15. At various times in the last 40 years I have been a business owner and employer, at various times I have been a contract consultant and regular employee.

    With one exception, I do not think any legal thing done in one’s private life should be grounds for firing. That one exception is providing aid to a direct competitor of one’s employer, either knowledge or work, of any kind. If you work for Boeing, and you are also secretly providing information to Bell Helicopter, then I think that is ground for firing you from either or both companies. I do not think it matters if the information is covered by non-disclosure agreements or not; even if you are just telling Bell where the boss is traveling, if they want the information then it is useful to them.

    I do not think it is an employer’s business what their employees are doing outside of work, sexually or otherwise, if it is legal. I do not believe it is right for religious organizations to demand any more from employees than Sears or McDonald’s demands of theirs.

    If they want employees to act like ordained ministers, let them hire ordained ministers to do those jobs. The added cost of that to the church is immaterial: There is no valid argument for morality or justice that considers a practice more moral or just on the grounds that it is cheaper.

  16. Religion, like any other private club, is discriminatory. That’s the problem. Compound that with divine sanction and you have an arrogance that’s hard to overestimate. This is legally sanctioned arrogance and quite dumb to deny the kids the benefits of a fine teacher. The problem is in the theology, not the law. It should be the subject of ridicule, not a court case. One wonders how the school found out about the IVF and whether “the pastor” broke his vow of confidentiality.

  17. I have to agree with Laycock’s approach to the matter legally speaking, but I find the RCC stance against IVF rather puzzling given the generally pro-life stance of the organization and, honestly, the “institution of marriage” rationale seems to fall flat on its face right out of the gate. One would think that such technological advances as IVF would be a boon to marriage as an institution when both parties wanted children but for some reason needed the assistance. It seems to imply that how sperm and egg meet is more important than they meet at all when it comes to “approved” reproduction. That sounds nonsensical to me, but then again, so does a lot of things the RCC does.

  18. Say what…… So if this is the case then what about viagra…..

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