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 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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