Can religious schools require teachers to stick to faith principles? Top court rules

By Around the Web

(Image by Tawny Nina Botha from Pixabay)
(Image by Tawny Nina Botha from Pixabay)

By Kate Anderson
Daily Caller News Foundation

The New Jersey Supreme Court ruled in favor of a Catholic school Monday, arguing that religious organizations have the right to require their staff to adhere to certain faith-based principles, according to court documents.

The case involved former teacher Victoria Crisitello whose contract was not renewed by St. Theresa School after she disclosed that she had become pregnant outside of wedlock, which was a violation of the school’s code of ethics, according to the ruling. After her contract was not renewed in 2014, Crisitello filed a lawsuit against the school claiming that she had been discriminated against, but the New Jersey justices did not agree, according to court documents.

“Based on the facts of this case, we conclude that St. Theresa’s has validly asserted the religious tenets exception as an affirmative defense and that Crisitello has not raised any genuine dispute of material fact regarding the applicability of that defense,” the court wrote.

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The court noted that Crisitello’s initial complaint to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission argued that she had been terminated for being pregnant, but pointed out that the school had consistently maintained that her contract was not renewed due to her engaging in premarital sex, which was forbidden by the school’s “Code of Professional and 30 Ministerial Conduct,” according to the ruling. The justices further argued that Crisitello had “knowingly violated Catholic law” by agreeing to adhere to this requirement for school employees in her initial contract.

A trial court ruled in favor of St. Theresa in 2016 but was then overruled by the state appellate courts in 2020, according to the ruling. Crisitello’s attorney Thomas McKinney argued that the school’s code was discriminatory because “only a woman could be punished, not a man,” according to National Review.

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“Teachers make the school,” Eric Rassbach, vice president and senior counsel at Becket, said in a prepared statement. “The whole point of a religious school is to help parents educate their children in their faith. And to do that, schools must have teachers who believe in and follow their faith.” 

McKinney did not immediately respond to the Daily Caller News Foundation’s request for comment.

This story originally was published by the Daily Caller News Foundation.

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