Emily Herx of Hoagland, Indiana, is suing the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend and St. Vincent de Paul school for discrimination in her firing last June. She states that she was fired for using in vitro fertilization to try to have a baby with her husband.
I wish that I could be shocked by this, but I would not be surprised to find out that Herx’s claim that the church pastor told her she was a “grave, immoral sinner” and that a scandal would erupt if anyone learned she had undergone the procedure. The Roman Catholic Church opposed IVF, which seems to be in direct conflict with a religion that is all about procreation. But then again, I spent nine years in a Roman Catholic school, so, I’m no stranger to conflicting information.
Diocese officials say that the lawsuit challenges its rights as a religious institution “to make religious based decisions consistent with its religious standards on an impartial basis.” The diocese also said that teachers, even those such as Herx who aren’t Catholic, are required by their contracts to abide by Catholic tenets and “serve as moral exemplars.”
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously in January that religious workers can’t sue their employers for job discrimination because anti-discrimination laws allow for a “ministerial exception.” Unfortunately, they failed to define who was and who wasn’t a religious employee, and this is just another case in the gray area of what constitutes “religious employee.”
In a similar case, an Ohio woman – Christa Dias – was fired after becoming pregnant through artificial insemination. It was stated that she violated Church doctrine. U.S. District Judge Arthur Spiegel said in his ruling that the ministerial exception did not apply because Dias was a non-Catholic computer teacher with no role in ministering or teaching Catholic doctrine. The school originally said it fired her for being single and pregnant, but when they were informed that that’s not, you know, legal, they changed their tune to say they fired her for becoming pregnant via artificial insemination.
However, Rick Garnett, associate dean and professor of law at Notre Dame Law School, believes that ministerial exception cited by the Supreme Court could be applied to most parochial school teachers:
“A lot of Catholic schools, including my own kids’, every teacher brings the kids to Mass, is involved in sacramental activities. … It’s not just one teacher who teaches religion, religion is pervasively involved,” Garnett said.
Herx’s attorney, Kathleen Delaney, disagrees with this sentiment:
“She was not a religion teacher. She was not ordained. She was not required to and didn’t have any religion teaching. She wasn’t even instructed about the doctrine that she violated,” said Delaney.
According to the lawsuit, the school did not even know Herx was undergoing treatment until she told them about it, using her sick days. At no time was she made aware that there was a problem. The lawsuit alleges that the diocese violated the Civil Rights Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act by discriminating against Herx based on gender and on infertility, which is considered a disability. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission upheld Herx’s complaint in January.
The Church takes issue with IVF for many reasons, the largest of which being that many eggs are fertilized, and any extra embryos may be destroyed. These are sacred lives lost, per Church beliefs. I can understand that sentiment, although I do not believe life begins at that stage, but this just goes to show how fundamental science and religion don’t mix. The church believes that procreation should be limited to marital sex, but how many instances of marital sex result in sperm reaching an egg and then not implanting? How many miscarriages are there? Per these standards, those would also be lives lost, would they not?
This case is just another example of the never-ending battle of the religious rights vs. separation of church and state. If Herx is not Catholic, then what obligation does she have to follow Catholic doctrine? She’s working as a teacher, not as a Eucharistic Minister.