Faith Under Fire: A Despicable Victory Over Religious Rights in America

A court case from my home diocese making news around the country concerns a computer teacher fired from her job at two Catholic elementary schools in 2010, after announcing her pregnancy.

Here’s the story in a nutshell: Christa Dias, a lesbian who hid her  partnership with another woman from the schools who employed her because she knew it would violate the morals clause of her employment contract, says she did not know that the Catholic Church considers artificial insemination to be immoral and so she was shocked — shocked! – to find herself without a job after announcing that she was expecting a baby.

She sued the Archdiocese of Cincinnati for discrimination, saying she was fired for being pregnant, and on Monday a jury agreed. They awarded her $171,000, a cool $100 grand of it for punitive damages.

The story is sordid in a 21st-century way: She planned the pregnancy, of course, and it turns out that the father, a gay man, is a friend. As if choosing a pal to be the father she purposefully deprived her child of having wasn’t confused enough, there’s more: In a story carried by the local newspaper at the time she filed suit, Dias said that she thought having a baby by artificial insemination would be considered moral by her employers because she wasn’t having sex outside of marriage.

The interview wasn’t exactly candid –  at the time she was hiding that she had a female lover and thus was indeed having sex outside of marriage — but she still claims that she thought artificial insemination wasn’t a problem.

Maybe she’s been reading too much Dan Brown (spoiler alert: a key character in bestseller Angels & Demons turns out to be the son of the pope and a nun — but it’s not immoral, Brown says, because thanks to the miracle of in vitro fertilization, they never had sex!). The truth is that artificial insemination, like in vitro fertilization, is considered gravely wrong by the Church. They’re immoral in a different way from having either heterosexual or homosexual relations outside of marriage, but no less sinful.

Christa Dias

Christa Dias

So why is this a story and why does she have a case at all?

It’s a story because it’s about sex and religion. A pretty young woman has a  sweet little baby, how can that be wrong? So she’s a lesbian and she lied about that — who cares in this day and age, except the mean old Catholic Church that just wants to oppress women and stop them from having sex with whoever they want to, whenever they want to? So she violated her contract — who cares about that either, as long as the contract is with anyone connected with the Catholic Church and concerns sexual morality?

She has a case because the judge who okayed her suit in February ruled that she was not a ministerial employee. We’ll go into the implications of that ruling in a minute, but its immediate effect was that the case could proceed. Judge Arthur Spiegel found that it was not clear whether Dias was fired for being pregnant (which is illegal) or for sexual activity outside of marriage (which can be illegal, if it is not applied equally to men and women) or for artificial insemination (also illegal if it was not applied equally to men).

Judge Spiegel said it was a jury’s job to decide that, so all last week we were treated to reports ranging from the bemused to the hysterical — the latter being CNN personality Ashleigh Banfield equating the schools’ morality clause to sharia law. Even in more sober accounts, we’ve heard about Ms. Dias crying on the stand as she remembered being fired, and testifying that she thought fulfilling the contract that she signed every year for five years just meant she should “be a Christian woman and follow the Bible.”

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Gail Finke

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Gail D. Finke is an author and mother living in Cincinnati, where she writes for The Catholic Beat at Sacred Heart Radio.

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  • CharlesOConnell

    RKids=2U? Every Child Needs A Married Mom & Dad. Don’t Believe It? Ask Any Kid. http://www.sacra-pizza-man.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/RkidsEqual2U.gif

  • pnyikos

    This is an excellent article, giving many factual details I hadn’t seen before. Even if the “ministerial employee” clause is narrowly interpreted by the courts, the diocese has a good case in the violation of contract, assuming it was worded in a way that clearly excludes extramarital sex. [I don't suppose artificial insemination is mentioned.]

    The diocese should appeal the decision. Will it?

  • JMC

    With all the news IVF and AI have made lately – always with a note about how the Catholic Church “refuses to get on board” – I can’t believe she didn’t know she was violating her morality clause. It’s entirely possible she did it on purpose precisely so she could sue them and walk home with a nice fat bundle of cash. Ah, the fruits of the “sexual revolution.”

  • Mittens

    And yet…a heterosexual employee and his wife who used artificial insemination suffered no reproach or penalties. And male priests having sex with boys is also OK with the church. This hypocrisy is a big reason it is dying. ;-)

  • catholicexchange

    That’s demonstrably false–heterosexuals lose their jobs for these kinds of reasons, as well, at Catholic institutions where the faith really matters to the employees. Secondly, any rational person of good will knows perfectly well that “male priests having sex with boys” is not “O.K.” with the Church, nor has it occurred that much, especially compared to, for instance, non-celibate married men. And, also, the Church isn’t anywhere near “dying,” however much you wish it would. It is alive, robust, and bravely resisting tyrannical governments and the hatred of culpably ignorant combox commenters everywhere. God bless.

  • Richard III

    The Church is dying, you say….

    Well then, I guess all those Catholic parishes, dioceses, and schools multiplying like guppies in Africa and Asia despite all the oppression thrown at them are just figments of mine and my fellow faithful Catholics in Africa, Asia, and elsewhere imaginations.

    Our imaginations must be really wild, because the Catholic Church also has many more members than any Protestant denomination, and many if not most Protestant denominations have been slowly dying for at least the past 50 years, and they’ve all been splintering and disintegrating since they were each founded.

  • Henry VIII

    With Rome’s backing this will go all the way to the Supreme Court. This battle isn’t over by a long shot. What scares me is how far can this go? Can all employers insert a “morality clause” in employment contracts? How much can employers intrude on their employees private lives? Can a nurse or doctor in a Catholic Hospital be fired for the same thing? Is caring for the sick a ministerial position?
    Let’s address the Pedophile thing. Its not that the molestation happened that’s the problem, its the systematic cover-up. You folks just don’t get it. The church in the developed world is dying. In the Third World the church is strong because they are good at scaring the uneducated into holding onto ancient myths.

  • GaryLockhart

    “And yet…a heterosexual employee and his wife who used artificial insemination suffered no reproach or penalties.”

    Verifiable source?

    “And male priests having sex with boys is also OK with the church.”

    That will come as a surprise to all of the criminals masquerading as Catholic Priests who have been dismissed form the clerical state and are now in prison.

    However, I bet you don’t engage in any handwringing or gnashing of teeth when it comes to the epidemic of abuse in public education:

    http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2006/08/24/opinion/main1933687.shtml

    and you gladly support those crimes by paying your property taxes; which is where public education gets the bulk of its funding, with nary a whimper.

  • ethniccatholic

    She was breaking her contract on several levels – purposefully & secretly – by co-habitating with her gay partner while she pursued her out of wedlock pregnancy. Really? I believe someone above was complaining about ‘cover-ups’? How about her? She was living a lie, on purpose, and got caught. She is free to pursue her alternative lifestyle in America – that is her right – but she should have got another job. Lots of employers couldn’t care less. A Catholic school does care. She signed a contract every year (lying!) instead of just moving on. I think she bears a lot of responsibility for this whole mess. Where is her culpability? A cool $100M – for lying? Is this a great example for her students? Hundreds of parents paid money to send their kids to those two schools just so that they could see and live Catholic values. Instead they got a lesson in “the wages of sin are: CASH!”

  • Gail Finke

    The Archdiocese is considering an appeal. They are not making comments other than that, but a radio commenter who is a lawyer said one reason not to appeal would be if the appeals court was likely to uphold this verdict, which would be even more problematic for the Church and for religious schools and organizations in general. The case was a discrimination case, not a contract law case.

  • Gail Finke

    You are not the first to say that but as far as I know there is no evidence that this is the case.

  • Gail Finke

    Perhaps you are not aware that morality clauses are common in many contracts — they are hardly unique to the Catholic Church. Moreover, conduct requirements in non-Catholic, Christian schools are often far more stringent and require the employees to actually profess the religion of the employer. This case is not about the Catholic Church deciding to intrude on employees’ personal lives, it is about the continued erosion of moral standards and employees of religious institutions insisting that they not be held to any standard but what they want to do. Yes, caring for the sick is a ministerial position. And if you would like people to take you seriously, you might reconsider your scorn of people in the Third World — they are just as intelligent as all other human beings.

  • Henry VIII

    I didn’t say they were not intelligent, just uneducated. There is a difference. They don’t have access to the same educational opportunities in the developed world.

  • Mary-Lynn

    Faith does not discriminate between rich or poor, uneducated or educated.

    on this website you may find both stories found about African peoples. http://immaculee.biz/home.php

  • Henry VIII

    Neither does cancer, but having knowledge can help one take preventive measures.

  • Mary Trani

    Lawyers representing these cases should present as evidence Catholic anthropology which is based in reason but is a counter anthropology to the secular one now popular. What it means to be “truly human,” so beautifully explained in Catholic works like those of John Paul II and Benedict XVI is a matter of ethics which is a science and ours is a very sophisticated and rational one. Perhaps these men were popes, but they were also philosophers of the first order. Belief in God cannot be relegated to pure dogma and is rational as scientists such as Einstein himself have illustrated. Our anthropology illustrates a relationship of the human person to his God and sexual ethics, as taught by the Catholic Church, are meant to lead persons to a beautifully fulfilled life. The saints are our proof. The young woman in this case is free to chose her own anthropology, but not to stand in opposition to the Catholic ideal in a school that is dedicated in teaching it.

  • Mary Trani

    You are dying, the Church is not. Once the irrational, bitter, and self-absorbed 60′s iconoclasts are pushing daisies, and it won’t be long, the Church will experience a new springtime. Don’t get killed by the pendulum swinging in the other direction, friend.

  • Mary Trani

    Love it! Well, said!

  • Michael Roth

    Personally I wouldn’t appeal and take this as a lesson to immediately implement the following:

    1. Make certain that all job descriptions state that the employee is serving as a minister of the Catholic Church

    2. Re-do the contract so that it specifically states the Catholic moral positions on certain “common” things – e.g. sex outside of marriage, gay “marriage”, abortion, artifical contraception, in-vitro, etc. in order to reduce confusion.

    3. In order to support number 1 above, re-work all curriculum so that it in some teaches the faith (which any good Catholic schools should really be doing anyway).

  • Henry VIII

    As I have shaken the shackles of octagenarian pederasts looking to suppress free will and individual freedom in order to regain medieval power for the Papacy and can now think for myself I’ll be just fine. Continue to cling to ancient lies designed to pick your pocket and make you subservient to idolators and frauds. Enjoy following Inquisitors and those responsible for the torturous death of millions by telling people that HIV and AIDS is bad, but not as bad as condoms.

  • Henry VIII

    I don’t wish for anyone’s death simply the arcane and evil institution that is the church unlike you madam who prays and rejoices in anothers death. That is sick.

  • Henry VIII

    Ethics of what? Covering and hiding pederasts and being at the very least enablers if not outright condoners of the systematic rape and sexual enslavement of children around the world. They wrote about ethics but sure didn’t practice it, the worst kind of hypocrites.

  • Gail Finke

    A good idea in many respects.

  • catholicexchange

    Yes, clearly you’re free of it all, when you can’t even stop yourself from desperately slithering after every group of catholics you find on the internet to try and hurt their feelings with petulant, ignorant comments. What a super-fun, freedom-filled life you lead!

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