Christian School Fires Teacher for Not Getting Married Quickly Enough

Cathy Samford is a middle school science teacher and volleyball coach. She’s also in a longterm relationship — engaged — and planned to get married last summer, but there were some delays and the wedding didn’t happen as scheduled… Anyway, she’s about to give birth to a child.

So her school fired her.

“We had the feeling that because kids on her volleyball team and kids in her classes knew she was pregnant, it really wouldn’t have changed anything,” the school’s headmaster Dr. Ron Taylor told ABCNews.com. “It doesn’t change that her behavior was out of wedlock.”

Oh, right. This is a Christian school. Where they act like Jesus and throw the unwed pregnant people out of their church school:

“It’s not that she’s pregnant. The issue here is being an unmarried mother,” Taylor said. “Everything that we stand for says that we want our teachers, who we consider to be in the ministry, to model what a Christian man or woman should be.”

And what should a Christian woman be like? Should she be a wonderful educator? Apparently, that doesn’t matter. Neither does being a successful coach. Or being in a long-term, committed relationship.

Instead, the people running Heritage Christian Academy in Rockwall, Texas adhere to some silly rule about chastity that (I’ll bet just about anything) other teachers there probably don’t follow either. They just don’t have the bellies to show for it.

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Samford is planning to sue the school:

Samford’s attorney Colin Walsh disagrees.

“It’s against the law to fire someone for them taking a pregnancy leave and you can’t preventatively fire someone. You can’t contract around anti-discrimination laws,” Walsh told ABCNews.com. “Just being generally religious or upholding Christian values is not enough to evoke the ministerial exception.”

Walsh and Samford have filed a charge of gender and pregnancy discrimination with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and are preparing a lawsuit against the school.

I’m not sure how successful the lawsuit will be, but similar cases are being played out elsewhere in the country. The success could hinge on whether or not Samford is considered a “minister” — ministers cannot sue their church employers for anti-discrimination reasons that would be lawsuit-worthy in other settings.

In the meantime, here’s what working for a Christian organization has done for Samford:

“I’m very worried about money. I’m just hoping to make it through this month. I’ve had lots of medical bills. My insurance was dropped so everything I’ve had to pay is out of pocket,” she said. “I’m using my tax return just to live on. It’s a big concern. I don’t know what next month holds for me.”

She said her students, volleyball team members and their parents have been largely supportive and miss her at school.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if Samford’s students found some way to peacefully protest…? Maybe they can stage a walkout at the school… or their parents could pull their kids from Heritage (along with the tuition payments) and send them to a better school, one where a teacher is valued for what she brings to the classroom instead of fired for something completely unrelated.

(Thanks to Scott for the link)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the chair of Foundation Beyond Belief and a high school math teacher in the suburbs of Chicago. He began writing the Friendly Atheist blog in 2006. His latest book is called The Young Atheist's Survival Guide.

  • http://twitter.com/ThyGoddess Michelle

    And this is how they support her for deciding to bring it to term? Would it had been acceptable to them for her to keep the situation mute and get a quiet abortion?

    A woman is only a reproduction tube, but if she’s not married… my god! She’s a whore and a bad example to our children!

    • CelticWhisper

       You know, it’s a shame cognitive dissonance doesn’t ACTUALLY cause people’s heads to explode.  Methinks it would really help cull the herd of arrogant busybody school administrators.

      • The Other Weirdo

         It does too! I saw cognitive dissonance cause heads to explode on Austin Powers, so IT MUST BE TRUE! LOL!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001612243746 Rory Barclay

    The poor woman, she must be feeling terrible right now! Considering that she’s worked there for three years, I think it’s fairly safe to say that she’s a Christian too, so to go from feeling part of a community like that to feeling betrayed by people so similar to her must be terrible!

    I hope she’s successful in any legal action about this, the school’s behaviour’s absolutely disgusting.

    • Anonymous-Sam

      What? Forgiveness, among Christians? It’s such a rarity these days.

  • Alan

    Jesus forgives…unless you’re a woman, apparently. What a joke. If the church is going to preach about charity to the poor and forgiveness of sins then Christian schools should not be throwing out a teacher just because she got pregnant before she was married.

  • jdm8

    If the recent SCOTUS ruling is any indication, the application of the
    term minister will probably stick here.  They ruled 9-0 against the
    teacher of a religious school, siding with the school on religious
    freedom grounds, even though the religion wasn’t the issue there.

    I don’t see where the legislation intended or defined that a teacher is a minister, especially if they aren’t ordained or have the kind of education religions generally require to become a minister, but that’s the ruling in a very similar situation.

    • Savoy47

      Was she getting ministerial housing tax exception?  

    • sunburned

      Actually in that case Cheryl Perich was a ministerial employee.  She took classes to become one that earned her a “diploma of vocation” and inferred the title of “Minister of Religion, Commissioned”.  She also taught religion classes:)

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_ORRVVC5R2QWLTXEM6SX5L6BORE Jay Arrrr

       Yes, she’ll probably lose. The church considers her a “minister” in the “Teaching Ministry”. The guy who swabs the toilets is in the “Custodial Ministry”, and the people who drive the church buses on Wednesday and Sunday are “Bus Ministers”.
      This didn’t hold true when Greg Dixon had the Indianapolis Baptist Temple seized for not paying employee (minister) withholding, but the make-up of the SCOTUS is different now.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=540506808 David Cearlock

    So if she would have gotten an abortion would she still have a job?

    • http://www.facebook.com/maik.both Maik Both

      I think the ‘Christian’ reply might be she shouldn’t be having sex outside of marriage in the first place.

      • amycas

        The “Christian” response should be, everybody sins, we forgive you, and move on. I think that would be a better lessons for the kids then,”Hey kids, don’t have sex before you’re married, because if you do, we will kick you out and disown you.”

  • Stev84

    Urk. I made the mistake of reading the comments in the original article. The stupid is very strong there

  • Michael

    Once again the (im)moral guardians are out in force showing us that teaching children is not as important as their own squeamishness.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Tr-Dev/100003542966660 Tr Dev

    I browsed through a few of the comments on the original article and the consensus among believers seemed to be that she’s giving christianity a “bad name”.  I commented and told them that if they really wanted to know what was giving christianity a bad name, they should hang out on the social networks and YouTube and see what kinds of things the “common christian” says.  I told them there are plenty of other things to bitch about in that area and they should go at least listen.  They probably have no idea because they are believers and wouldn’t be hearing things like this from their fellow believers.   

  • J M

    Do I hear “fundraiser” in the future? Because that would be a good idea for us atheists to be a part of after her Christian community got rid of her.

    • honestabe

      My thoughts exactly. Does anyone know what we need to do to get something like this started?

      • amycas

         I was thinking the exact same thing. She’s going to need it if she lost her health insurance and she plans on fighting a legal battle.

    • Drew M.

       I’d chip in.

    • Sindigo

      Count on me to chip in. This is f’ckin appalling. Of all the times to do this to a person.

      • Rosemary Lyndall Wemm

         Me, too.

  • Onamission5

    I wonder how many male teachers they’ve fired for becoming unmarried fathers? Or do they honestly think that has never happened?

  • http://profiles.google.com/schwabby Aaron Schwab

    What WOULD that hypothetical fourth-grade girl think of her caring, attentive, supportive teacher for being pregnant out of wedlock? Oh, right…she’d probably think she’s caring, attentive, and supportive.

    As soon as a female representative from that school stands up and speaks against Miss Samford, then I’ll listen; some ass-backwards, morally-void argument from a male administrator just somehow holds no water in my eyes.

    • Onamission5

      With you on the fact that religious men speak way too often on the topic of female “morality,” but religious women can form ass backwards, morally void arguments, too.

    • Persephone

       There’s no shortage of women who agree with the actions of the school, unfortunately.

  • monyNH

     The original ABC article mentions that Samford has two children from a previous marriage…so, Christians can conveniently change the rules about divorce, but cling to the edict that sex in a committed relationship is sinful (and only your local notary has the power to sanctify it). Ridiculous and hypocritical.

    • Wintermute

       That’s interesting to me. I went to a Catholic high school, and while the administration wasn’t totally awful, I do remember that one male teacher was forced to resign because he wanted to marry a woman who had previously had a divorce, which I guess constitutes adultery in that awful cult. Still shameful.

  • Will Poire

    Trick question: Would they have fired Mary for becoming pregnant with Jesus if she were a teacher?

    Answer: She wouldn’t have been allowed to teach anyways.

    “I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet.” – 1 Timothy 2:12

    Therein lies the hypocrisy of this school; they simply cherry pick the Bible the vague verses about premarital sex in the Bible (namely 1 Corinthians 7:2) whilst ignoring 1 Timothy 2:12.

  • Adi Rule

    This is a terrible injustice and my heart goes out to this woman.

    That said, it’s possible she is a non-Christian who took the only/best job available.  But, if she is a Christian, the injustice to which she has been subjected is one preached by the holy book to which she herself subscribes.  

    • Stev84

      This isn’t a matter of biblical “morality” but secular law. Religious schools simply shouldn’t be be allowed to do whatever they want just because some ancient book says so

      • Rwlawoffice

        This was a private Christian school where she most likely signed a morality agreement when she was employed (based upon the lawyer’s comment regarding the contract).  She obviously breached that agreement. The school has an obligation and the right to uphold it. She violated the moral agreement they all agreed to when she accepted the job and when they hired her. There is nothing in the article that says the school enjoyed making this decision or that it didn’t have compassion for her, but they have an obligation to stand up to the moral tenets that they preach.  It would be hypocritical for them to do otherwise. And yes if the father of this child worked at the school he should be fired as well.

         

        • sunburned

          Not really.  You should know this working in a law office and all.

          In fact you should know that you *don’t know enough* about this situation to even comment in any sort of authoritative fashion.

          See: Cline, 206 F.3d ^51 6th Cir. 1999  also Boyd, 88 F. 3d 410, 414 (6th Cir. 1996).

          You cannot contract away civil rights or labor law protection.

          • Rwlawoffice

            I do understand that but as the Supreme Court says that does not apply to religious institutions.

            • Stev84

              Only when the employee in question actually performs some kind of ministerial function. Which is of course what any allegedly “religious institution” will soon claim

            • sunburned

              See Dias vs. Archdiocese of Cincinnati
              It only applies to those in ministerial capacities. 

              The bar is:
              (1) The employer must be a religious institution and (2) the employee must be a ministerial employee. 

              Cheryl Perich was a ministerial employee and taught religion classes who was issued a “diploma of vocation” and the title of “Minister of Religion, Commissioned”.

              A religious institution can’t just fire someone and then call them a *minister* after the fact.

      • Adi Rule

        I’m staying out of the legal debate here since I’m not familiar enough with this specific situation, though I do think it is a societal injustice that a woman can be fired for being pregnant out of wedlock.  It’s just interesting to me, in a larger context, that people can identify as Christians and then be surprised when other Christians judge them negatively based on the book they should really all have read.

    • http://annainca.blogspot.com/ Anna

      I don’t think this school hires non-Christian teachers. The website says that their teachers are “born again.” This is a hardcore fundamentalist school, as in biblical inerrancy, creationism, the whole works. It doesn’t make what happened to her any better, but Samford would have known that going in.

  • Bill Brink

    None if it holds water in my eyes, I don’t care what gender the speaker is.

    • CelticWhisper

       Bingo – gender never matters.  Actions matter.  And the actions of this school are as wrong as can be, and I hope they get utterly crushed in the ensuing lawsuit.

      If Cathy and/or her attorney are reading this: We’re behind you 100%.  Go for the jugular.

  • Bill Brink

    *of it even.

  • Gunstargreen

    So much Christian love. “Pregnant? Need money for the hospital bill and to support the new life you’re bringing into the world? You’re fired. Good luck.”

    They bitch and moan about how no one should get an abortion because others will step in and help out but this is the example they set. Pathetic.

  • Conspirator

    Is anybody really surprised by this?  Isn’t this just the norm?  And why should we care?  She chose to be oppressed by joining this organization.  

    I despise organized religion.  I think it’s detrimental to society.  But in this country we respect the rights of religious organizations to act as they feel within their organization.  It is not our right to force our moral values on this church.  Now if she were working at a public school in a small town and the church leaders urged the school board to fire her, well then we would have cause to be outraged and legal action should be taken.  But this is church business, not ours.  

    This is just like that situation a while back where a kid got suspended from an ultra-conservative Christian school for attending a dance at another school.  He knew the rules, he knew the consequences for violating the rules, he then broke the rules and whined to the press.  I have very little sympathy for such people.  

    • Stev84

      There might be an argument made for allowing churches some leeway in their employment practices. But religiously affiliated schools, universities and hospitals are NOT churches. They aren’t religious organizations. They are secular businesses that fulfill entirely secular functions. As such they need to follow establishes laws and shouldn’t be allowed to make up whatever “exemptions” they want. It’s the exact same principle that applies when Catholic hospitals refuse to provide contraception in their employee’s health plans.

      This ridiculous notion that any business that is vaguely affiliated with a religious organization should be above the law is exactly what has allowed the US to become the creeping quasi-theocracy it is. The mechanism has been abused by religious organizations to take over society.

      • Conspirator

        Wow, a bit alarmist don’t you think?  And a Christian school is not a completely secular business fulfilling a secular function.  Hospitals are a different matter altogether than schools.  It’s silly to compare the two.  

        When I went to Catholic school there was religious instruction as well as mandatory mass attendance 2-3 times a week.  How secular was that?  The school was funded by the church, and if our parents tithed the appropriate amount then our tuition was covered.  In what way was that a secular business?

        • Yoav

           What else should religious schools be able to do, is it OK for a jewish  school to fire an employee who was spotted stopping at McDonald’s on the way home for a cheeseburger, Can a JW affiliated school fire an employee for receiving a blood transfusion after being in an accident? Both of these are considered a much more serious infringement by these groups then being unwed mother is in christianity.

          • Conspirator

            If somebody signs a moral code when taking a job with a private organization, then intentionally violates that moral code with full knowledge of what the consequences are, so be it.  And equating eating at McDonald’s to getting pregnant is stupid.  Now if a teacher at an Orthodox Jewish school brought bacon chocolate chip cookies to class, well yes, I would expect them to be punished.  

            A public university football coach was just fired for having an affair, lying about it, and influencing the hiring of the girl he was seeing by the university.  Where’s the outrage over that?  Why should he be fired for that?  Unless she’s not qualified for the job, then what’s the harm? 

            • Yoav

               You will notice that I specifically said the eating of the cheeseburger was done outside the school, the point is what say does your employer get in what you do outside of work and to what extent. You think the school can tell a teacher she must be married before having children but does the school get to dictate that she get a church wedding with a priest of a denomination approved by the school or would a wedding preformed by a justice of the peace will do? If the latter then can you explain how is a wedding preformed by a judge (or Elvis) different, from a religious point of view, then no wedding.
              As for your coach example, that is a completely different issue. I don’t know the story but assuming both parties were consenting adults the affair itself shouldn’t be an issue but trying to manipulate the hiring process is clearly a work related offense.  This example would be comparable if the teacher was fired for, as an example, providing favorite students the answers to exams in advance.

            • amycas

              Nepotism, look it up.

              • Conspirator

                Is nepotism illegal?  Does it matter if you disclose it or not?  I’m guessing it’s not.  Rather he was fired for violating his employment contract.  

                • Yoav

                  Since it was a public, as in taxpayer funded, university then there are laws that regulate the way such institutions hire people and he may have violated the law by manipulating the system, but even if there wasn’t an actual criminal activity the point you keep ignoring is that his action were directly related to the way he preformed his job while the teacher in the story was fired over something that she did (or didn’t do) in her personal life and that had no effect on her job.

                • Conspirator

                  Well that’s just silly, she did do it.  Or else it’s a miracle.  

                  I’m not saying this school in the right to do what they did, I’m just saying they have the right to do it.  

                  Christians are constantly going on about how the atheist agenda is to destroy religion in America by taking away people’s freedom of religion.  By saying the government should dictate the morale code of a religious school you are providing ammo for the Christians in their ongoing efforts to label themselves as the oppressed.  Way to go.  

                • Yoav

                   Are you a moron or do you just play one  on TV? This is not a case of their religious freedom is threatened its a case of them insisting that they have a right to impose their religious morays on other people. The didn’t do point was referring to the getting married not the having sex part.

                • Conspirator

                  Wow, childish insults, pretty typical around here really.

                  How do you think Christians will interpret this?  It’s not other people, it’s one of them that they’re pushing their beliefs on.  

                  You need to open your mind a bit here, see how the other side will view it and how they will use it. 

                • Yoav

                   I don’t give a rodent’s donkey about how christians will interpret it , the facts are that they demand the ability to control how their employees conduct their personal lives and all I can say for that is , fuckem.

    • Persephone

       “She chose to be oppressed by joining this organization.”

      Libertarian idea detected.

      • Conspirator

        If it is a libertarian idea, does that invalidate it?  Cause a lot of libertarians think that pot should be legalized.  And yet I think there’s a lot of people that don’t agree much with the libertarians who agree with that idea.  I’m not one to disown a particular belief just because some organization or political party that I generally disagree with also accepts that belief.  

        • Anonymous-Sam

          “You know who else breathed oxygen? Hitler!

  • Thomas Farrell

    ” Maybe they can stage a walkout at the school… or their parents could
    pull their kids from Heritage (along with the tuition payments) and send
    them to a better school, one where a teacher is valued for what she
    brings to the classroom instead of fired for something completely
    unrelated.”

    They could *start* a new school, and *hire* her.

  • http://thefloatinglantern.wordpress.com/ Tim Martin

    ” This is a Christian school. Where they act like Jesus and throw the unwed pregnant people out of their church school”

    “And what should a Christian woman be like? Should she be a wonderful educator? Apparently, that doesn’t matter. Neither does being a successful coach. Or being in a long-term, committed relationship.”

    I see a problem with these statements. Am I the only one? Look, if having sex or getting pregnant outside of wedlock were *actually* immoral, then there might be good reason not to have such people on staff as teachers. To see this, all you have to do is substitute “pregnant out of wedlock” with something we all agree is immoral, like “repeat shoplifter.” Now try making a statement like Hemant’s again:

    ‘Apparently it doesn’t matter if you’re a wonderful educator or a successful coach. If you’re a thief, then Heritage Christian Academy doesn’t want you.’

    Well duh. The entire premise of HCA’s argument is that “being pregnant out of wedlock is wrong,” and the rest follows (more-or-less logically)  from that. Hemant’s argument is akin to saying that Cathy Samford’s good qualities outweigh the bad. But they wouldn’t necessarily outweigh the bad if she were a shoplifter, so I see Hemant’s argument as fundamentally flawed. If you want to argue that Samford is a good teacher, you have to challenge HCA’s premise – that there’s something wrong with being pregnant out of wedlock. There fucking isn’t. That’s the point.

  • http://yetanotheratheist.com/ TerranRich

    I don’t know, a part me wants to say, “Who gives a flying crap about what happens in Christian schools?” But another part of me realizes that this teacher is a human being and is being treated as less than such by an employer. The world sucks.

    • Anonymous-Sam

      There’s no need for cognitive dissonance just because a Christian institution is involved. Christians are human too, as you’ve acknowledged. Chalk it up to one more sign of how Abrahamic religions are ruining the world.

  • http://thefloatinglantern.wordpress.com/ Tim Martin

    error

  • http://dogmabytes.com/ C Peterson

    The relationship this woman has with her husband would certainly be considered “marriage” in the Bible, either the Old or New Testaments. And the school’s definition- presumably a consensual relationship between the two adults, “sanctified” by some sort of priest, was almost unheard of in biblical times.

    Once again, we see Christians operating under arbitrary rules that have little connection to anything actually found in their own scripture.

    • Rwlawoffice

      Please point to a Bible verse where it says that two people living together who do not consider themselves married are married by Biblical standards? Either Old or New Testament would do.

      • Stev84

        You’re obviously completely clueless and ignorant. The church didn’t get involved in the marriage business until some time around the 12th or 13th century. Before that, common law marriage was the norm for most people. If two people and their families considered themselves married they were.

        Marriage as it exists today is relatively new and less than 150 years old.

        • Rwlawoffice

           You are completely ignorant of the early church and Jewish culture.  With or without a formal ceremony in the church, marriage was an institution that was very structured and organized.  It was an elaborate arrangement between the families where there was a ceremony and other requirements.  To equate that with two people deciding to live together and thus being considered married is nonsense.  

          • sunburned

            LOL.  Meanwhile in an alternate universe where google and the internet exists a person motivated to find the truth can do so.

            In that universe people are not obliged to perform the ritual of Historical Denouncement where they are compelled to put fingers in their ears and shout “NEENER NEENER I CAN”T HEAR YOU HISTORY”.

          • Keven

            Rwlawoffice I told you before that you are nothing but an hypocrites, a liar and a a-hole on top of that. Get lost stupid.

      • http://dogmabytes.com/ C Peterson

        Biblically, two people living together, supporting each other, and having children were considered married. Recognition by any sort of priest was rare. Ceremonies were rare.

        • Rwlawoffice

           Please cite a verse that says that. Culturally at the time of the Bible and as described in the Bible, marriages were highly organized, arranged relationships between the families. There is no evidence that people could just start living together and they were then considered married.  In fact, Jesus acknowledges the difference when he talks to the woman at the well telling her that she had been married many times before and that the man she was living with now was not her husband. 
           

          • Jean-Paul Marat

            Point to a verse where the Roman or Babylonian government grants marriage licenses to Jews and Christians.

            Oh, right — it’s not in there! 

            In fact, some Christian groups (Quakers’/Mennonites) have *self-uniting* marriage licenses where no third party is required to officiate, because they don’t believe that the State has any legitimate interest in deciding who should marry whom based on the *complete lack of state recognition of marriage* your silly bible.

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Self-uniting_marriage

            • Rwlawoffice

              Explain how this answers the question of pointing to a biblical verse that says that two people living together is considered marriage in the Bible?  

              • Jean-Paul Marat

                It just *is* — from Adam and Eve to Abraham and Sarah to David and Bathsheba. 

                Aren’t Christians supposed to be separate from the ‘world’ and not care what the state thinks?

                Where do you see a marriage ceremony officiated by a state official in the bible? The burden of proof is on *you*!

                • Rwlawoffice

                   Bathsheba was married to someone else, not David. That is why his acts with her constituted adultery.

                  Nobody in this discussion has been talking about a state marriage  just a marriage.

                • Jean-Paul Marat

                  You’ve run around this whole thread shouting “they weren’t married, this isn’t marriage, that’ isn’t marriage!”

                  Do Muslims who marry and then convert to Christianity count, or do they have to get married all over again? How about Catholics who become Baptists? How about Christians who were married in a third-world country with no functioning government to provide marriage certificates?

                  What the fuck counts as marriage to you? Define marriage. You’ve run around this whole thread without defining it.

                • Rwlawoffice

                  Marriage can be secular, religious or common law, but in all cases it is marriage.  This couple was not married in any respect by their own admission.

                • http://dogmabytes.com/ C Peterson

                  By biblical standards, they are married. Until the Catholics started redefining marriage to increase their control over people, this was a completely normal marriage. So from the standpoint of Christian ethics- particularly Protestant ethics, there is no biblical precedent for finding this woman to be guilty of any sort of “sin”. The school operators are making up their  own rules, and it reveals their own lack of ethics.

                • Jean-Paul Marat

                   What about gay marriage?

                  Oh, wait — that doesn’t count.

                  Marriage is only what Rwlawoffice says it is, right?

                • Rwlawoffice

                  In most states gay marriage would not be legal and in Texas that is the case.

          • http://dogmabytes.com/ C Peterson

            Point to a verse that limits marriage to something sanctified by a priest.

            I wrote my thesis for an undergraduate history degree on the history of childhood, which necessarily involved researching family structures. In western and near-eastern cultures, up until a few hundred years ago, almost all marriages were what we’d today call common law. There was no formal recognition in the church, and usually little in the way of ceremony. Most marriages were simply informal arrangements between the partners and their families. When the Bible was written, this defined the vast majority of marriages, and is certainly what “marriage” means in most biblical passages and contexts.

            The exception to this was where political control was involved: marriage amongst the rich, the powerful, the nobility. These marriages were usually much more formal, and often involved the church. Of course, in many cases these were forced or polygamous, as well- something that the Bible has no problem with.

          • http://dogmabytes.com/ C Peterson

            What do you mean by “at the time of the Bible”? The stories were written over about 1000 years, and many had oral precedents stretching back a couple of thousand years before that. The interpretation of marriage certainly varied over that interval.

            Marriage is a cultural institution, with a meaning well understood within any culture. That is why it is undefined in either the Old or New Testaments. Everybody knew what it meant (basically, the recognition by family and society that a couple were entitled to have sex and produce children, and an understanding of property rights). So in scripture, you see the word used, but no definition required. To understand marriage during different biblical times, we need to look to historical references. This is actually pretty easy for Roman Palestine, since good records were kept.

            Contrary to your assertion, marriages were NOT particularly formal outside of the aristocracy. Marriage was primarily by consent of the partners, usually with some involvement of their respective families (often, simply the purchase of the female partner from her father).

            A family like that of this teacher: a couple, sharing their resources, living under one roof, in a committed relationship, producing a child, with no other marital claimants to either party, would come about as close to traditional as you could get around the time of Jesus.

            • Rwlawoffice

               First, let’s get clear that this lady did not consider herself to be married. That intent to hold yourself out as man and wife is a requirement for a common law marriage. So the idea that the fact that they lived together and had a child together does not make them common law married.

              As for marriage in the time the Bible was written, it really did not change over the course of the years covered by the Bible in the sense that it was a formal arrangement.  As you point out, it was an arrangement that involved the families. It was not two people deciding to live together and poof they were married.  I asked for scripture to support that assertion and you rightly point out that there isn’t any. 

              • http://dogmabytes.com/ C Peterson

                By the definitions of marriage when the New Testament was written, they are married. They are engaged (erusin), and have moved in together (nissuin). We’re not talking about modern common law marriage requirements, because the standards being used here are 2000 years old. By those standards, the couple should be considered married. Jesus would have considered them husband and wife.

                As I noted earlier, the school is making up their own standards from a mix of Old Testament, New Testament, and (mainly) Roman Catholic tradition… and throwing in some of their own judgment that comes from none of these. And they’re arguably violating labor laws, since contracts defining “moral” behavior are frequently not legal, and my be found illegal in this case. We can certainly hope so.

              • Jean-Paul Marat

                “I asked for scripture to support that assertion and you rightly point out that there isn’t any. ”

                I demand that you provide Scripture that supports the Second Law of Thermodynamics.

              • Rosemary Lyndall Wemm

                Mary and Joseph did not consider themselves married either, if the Bible account is correct.  Yet they traveled together and looked for rooms together in the inn, and the stable.  And had a child together. 

                After that, if you’re Catholic, they lived together without ever having normal sexual relationships.  What a stressful abnormal relationship! Can’t have been good for Jesus. Perhaps that is why he turned out so strangely.

                • Guest

                  I know this is 4 months old but I just had to say it…

                  From the movie Dogma:
                  “Mary gave birth to Christ without having ever known a man’s touch, that’s true. But, she did have a husband…
                  The nature of God and the virgin birth…these are leaps of faith. But to believe a married couple never got down. Well, that’s just plain gullibility!”

                  Seriously, I’m protestant/non-denominational so I don’t believe all that Mary stayed a virgin her whole life stuff. I do believe that they waited until after Jesus was born. 

                  I think Christ turned out pretty well, most selfless person ever born.

          • walkamungus

            There are U.S. states that recognize common law marriage today: You live together as man and wife for a given period of time, and the state considers you married. No marriage license or church ceremony necessary.

            • Rwlawoffice

               I am a lawyer in one of those states.  One of the key elements of a common law marriage is holding yourself out to the public as being married.  Clearly this lady and her fiance did not do that.  They specifically said that they were not married, thus they could not be considered common law married.  Actually, the amount of time to live together is not true.  At lest in Texas the amount of time does not matter.  It is the intent and the public declaration along with living together.

              • Edmond

                But can you DEFEND what they’ve done here?  I’m sure you’ll say they were obeying scripture (though I wonder if scripture says that unwed mothers should be fired, please point to THAT verse), but what I’m really wondering is if you personally think they did the right thing.

                Are they all going to be BETTER Christians now that she’s gone?  Is this how this SHOULD have been handled?  It’s not as if she was NEVER going to get married, it was just delayed.  Presumably, they knew this, yet were unwilling to wait.

                Does her parental status or marital status have any bearing on her ability to teach or coach?  Is it really MORE important that she have a RITUAL at some “proper” place in her timeline, than that she is in love with her fiance and PLANS to spend the rest of her life with him?  Is this how a god would WANT her to be treated, stripped of her livelihood, unable to properly care for her coming child, all because her wedding date was pushed back?  Is this a desirable Christian policy, that others should model?

              • Keven

                 Please Rwlawoffice tell us your real name so we make sure to never get your service. You are to dumb.

                • Rwlawoffice

                  Keven I doubt you can do this, but tell me where I am wrong on Texas law regarding common law marriage?

                • http://dogmabytes.com/ C Peterson

                  It doesn’t matter, because this isn’t about common law marriage by modern standards. It is about marriage by biblical standards. And by those, this couple is married.

                • Rwlawoffice

                  I disagree.  Even in Biblical times they would not be married. They would be betrothed at best but during that time they would not live together nor would they have sex. After a year of this betrothal period they would then have a ceremony where they would be married. The ceremony would most often last a week or more.  It was no small affair. So even if you use the idea that because they were engaged they would be called man and wife in biblical times, they would have violated the biblical standard of not having sex until the marriage ceremony took place.  Doing so would be considered premarital sex and would not be allowed. in fact during this time the couple would have a chaperone to prevent them from doing so.

                • http://dogmabytes.com/ C Peterson

                  You clearly know nothing of marriage customs in “biblical times”, or even in the times when the New Testament was written.

                  You are conflating medieval Christian marriage practices, medieval Ashkenazi marriage practices, and the customs of the ancient aristocracy.

                  These people are “commoners” by biblical standards, and the state they are currently living in would have been considered marriage in western and near eastern cultures for most of the last 5000 years.

                • Rwlawoffice

                  You simply do not know what you are talking about.  Please cite your source for the idea that two people living together without the express intent to be married as these two were would have been considered married in the Jewish culture at the time of the bible.  It doesn’t exist. Your attempt to equate the modern practice of living together with a Biblical marriage common at the time of the bible will simply not work and is not supported buy any evidence. By all accounts a marriage in the Jewish culture at the time of the Bible would require a betrothal contract, a year of not living together, no premarital sex and a ceremony after that year was over, together with the execution of ketubah marriage contract. The one that Jewish couples still use today was drafted in 80 A.D. 

                • Yoav

                   According to jewish halacha law all that is  required for a marriage to be valid is for the man to say the magic words (you are now sanctified to me by this ring according to the religion of Moses and Israel), in the presence of two witnesses who are jewish males over the age of 13, that’s it. You only need an actual ordained rabbi involved when you want to have the marriage recognized by the state.

                • Stev84

                  These two people have the express intent to get married you silly fuckwit

                • Rwlawoffice

                  Intent to get married is not the present intent that they are married which would make them common law.  You really are not very smart.

          • Rosemary Lyndall Wemm

             In the Bible, women and children were property.  There was no mutually consensual agreement required.  Concubines, maid servants and captured virgins from the spoils of god-demanded wars were also considered male property for the purposes of sex and procreation.  How would the school have treated Hagar and her child?  I guess they’d be happy to follow the example of the “righteous” father who turfed them both out in the desert to die – with his god’s approval.

            • Rosemary Lyndall Wemm

               Since we are on the topic, how would this so-Christian school react if this woman had been her baby’s father’s half sister?  Apparently the Bible god was happy to bless this kind of marriage with a child. (Remember the story?  Abraham and Sarah, his half-sister, had a child in Sarah’s old age.  At this point Abraham abandoned Sarah’s maidservant slave together with the bastard son he had sired, and left them to die in the desert.)  Is this the type of godly behavior that the Christian school wants to emulate?

      • Edmond

        Personally, I’m not deeply interested in what kinds of ceremonies were held twenty centuries ago.  But I’d be curious…

        Can you DEFEND what they’ve done here?  I’m sure you’ll say they were obeying scripture (though I wonder if scripture says that unwed mothers should be fired, please point to THAT verse), but what I’m really wondering is if you personally think they did the right thing.

        Are they all going to be BETTER Christians now that she’s gone?  Is this how this SHOULD have been handled?  It’s not as if she was NEVER going to get married, it was just delayed.  Presumably, they knew this, and were unwilling to wait.

        Does her parental status or marital status have any bearing on her ability to teach or coach?  Is it really MORE important that she have a RITUAL at the “proper” place in her timeline, than that she is in love with her fiance and PLANS to spend the rest of her life with him?  Is this how a god would WANT her to be treated, stripped of her livelihood, unable to properly care for her coming child, all because her wedding date was pushed back?  Is this a desirable Christian policy, that others should model?

        • Rwlawoffice

           Yes I think that the Church did the right thing.  Just as I would think they did the right thing if they fired a man for the same reason.  She knowingly violated her morals clause she agreed to follow when she was hired.  

          As far as the delay, it only takes a few minutes to get married.  She can say they were going to get married anyway, so why not abide by her promise to the church, get married and then have sex?  Why should the church have to agree to her choice in that regard?  If she knows that she could get fired for this type of behavior and she does it anyway why should the church have to agree to that? Doesn’t the church get criticized here and other places for not following their beliefs?

          Let me give you an example- let’s say that there was a policy that two
          employees at the same job could not date ( a non fraternization policy)
          and a man and a woman violate policy. Should they not be fired? Does it
          change just because the woman might be pregnant? She is not being fired
          because she is pregnant, she is being fired for violating the policy. In this instance other children might be effected because their parents will lose their employment, but if they knew that going in would you still old the employer at fault? Or should we throw standards out the window and everybody do what they want?

          How about another example- what if she was caught stealing? Should she keep her job just because she is pregnant?

          Her ability to teach is not the issue here. But in a Christian school there is more then just her ability to teach that she is responsible for. She is held out to be a Christian role model.  In this regard she knowingly failed. The church’s obligation is not just to her, but to the other children in their school and the other parents who have placed their children in the school and who will expect them to follow the morals of the Christian faith.  To have a teacher there teaching their children who has refused to do that would be betraying these other children and their parents.  If this teacher  was concerned about her children, maybe she should not have had sex until she was married knowing that she could get fired for that if she did. 

          Instead of making this an attack on the church with some false sense of outrage on how this will effect her children, why not have people stand up and be responsible for their own actions? The people here who are expressing outrage on how this will effect her children are some of the same ones who would support her choice to abort the very child that they are so concerned about. 

          And let’s get some facts straight- She knew the rules going in, she knowingly violated them, she could have gotten married before she had sex but chose not to, the firing took place in the fall before Christmas and not when she was 39 weeks pregnant,  according to one commentator on the original article the church let her other two children stay in the school free of charge until she pulled them out and if i read it right she is no longer with the guy she was going to marry.

          • Jean-Paul Marat

            “Instead of making this an attack on the church with some false sense of outrage on how this will effect her children, why not have people stand up and be responsible for their own actions?”

            Her being unmarried, pregnant, and in a long-term monogamous relationship that resembled marriage in everything but the eyes of the State *didn’t hurt anyone.*

            The decision to fire her does hurt plenty of people, and the only basis on which this woman is punished is for having sex outside of some culturally nebulous notion of ‘marriage’ as defined by a particular subset of American Evangelical-Fundamentalist Protestants who think that “taking responsibility” for sexual actions (something I don’t even think is worth punishing) is slut-shaming women and depriving them of income.

            Thank you for reaffirming why I (and the rest of us here) are atheists and why I think Christians are the most hateful, bigoted, and downright irrational creatures on this planet. Only a Christian could turn a pregnant schoolteacher mother into a moral enemy.

            • amycas

               Also, according to every article I’ve seen, the morality clause merely called for her to be a “Christian role model.” It did not specifically describe what that meant. Tell me, RW, is the school administration in question being a good Christian role model by rejecting a woman for sinning? Wouldn’t Jesus have forgiven her? I would think a better way to handle this would be to forgive her for her transgressions and help her in her time of need. Seriously, that would be a much better lesson for the kids.

              • Rwlawoffice

                If she is a Christian then she understands what that means and I am sure she would agree that having sex out of wedlock is not a Christian role model.  One of the responsibilities  of Christian leaders is to admonish and correct those that are in the ministry to protect the church.  That is what the school was doing here. that does not mean that they will not also forgive her.  Forgiveness does not mean that you don’t also face the consequences of your sin. For example, if I lied to someone, when I was caught, I could be forgiven but still have to face the need to make it right.  What you are saying is that the church should not have her face the consequences of her actions.

          • Edmond

            I have to agree with Jean-Paul Marat, whose comment is after mine.  Her being pregnant is not a threat to anyone.  Your examples aren’t particularly analogous. There are perfectly good reasons to forbid fraternizations, if you’re in a situation where it may cause a conflict of interest, or nepotism.  There are perfectly good reasons to forbid stealing, which hopefully you don’t need explained.

            There simply isn’t any good reason to treat this woman as a criminal.

            Christianity really imbues people with a seriously screwed up sense of what is “moral”.  Two people in love, building a family and a future together are a beautiful thing… unless they don’t have a piece of paper declaring it, and a piece of metal wrapped around the correct finger!  Yeah, that makes a big difference.  They can’t be good people without all those trappings!

            We don’t need to throw out standards and let everybody do whatever they want, but SOME things do NOT merit punishment.  Any place that has a “morals clause” which goes above and beyond the morality that is maintained by civil laws, is just ASKING to be put into conflict with human nature.  Sex before marriage, and pregnancy out of wedlock, are not “evil”, and the people who may engage in them are not “evil” either.  They shouldn’t be fired and shunned and punished.

            Just another stellar example of why the absolutism of religion is NOT for me.  If you follow atheists websites, and read a lot of articles about Christianity, you see ideal after ideal of how NOT to treat your fellow human.

            • Rwlawoffice

              If she had gone to  work for your school that would not worry about holding up to Christian ideals and teachings then this would not be  problem for her.  However, she accepted employment at a Christian school which does believe that premarital sex is immoral which I am sure they teach to their students. So despite your contention that no one is harmed or that it is not a threat to anyone, the school and the other students would be harmed by having a teacher there that does not live by the teachings of the school. 

                 She is not being treated as a criminal, she is being treated as someone who breached her contract of employment. Why should she not be held accountable for that?

          • Keven

             STUPID

          • Piet Puk

            Suddenly there is none of that  love, compasion and forgiveness that your sky-daddy taught you.
            Jesus is not proud of you, you hypocrite.

      • Zeggman

         “Please point to a Bible verse where it says that two people living
        together who do not consider themselves married are married by Biblical
        standards? Either Old or New Testament would do.”

        Adam and Eve.

        If you’re going by Biblical standards, polygamy is acceptable. Marrying your brother’s childless widow is mandatory, presumably even if you’re already married. Please point to a Bible verse where it says that a woman who conceives a child out of wedlock should be fired.

        • Anonymous-Sam

          Don’t forget the one about how raping an unmarried woman means you have to marry her! Would we even be having this debate if she were refusing to marry her hypothetical rapist?

          … Outside of the middle-east?

      • Piet Puk

         So very christian of you to only react about that part.
        I guess this school has a policy that would even fire the mythical Joseph and Maria.
        How very christian..
        Hypocrites!

  • Jonathan Duran

    Hemant – Umm, this woman is obviously in need and a victim of religious discrimination…how come there isn’t already a pledge drive going for her like we did for Damon and Jessica?  Do we only help other atheists in trouble?   Can we start a small pledge drive for her to help her through this time and show some atheist love?

    • Onamission5

      Agreed!

      • Tim

        me too. 

        • amycas

           I’m in

  • http://www.facebook.com/anthonyjwmoss Tony Moss

    Hemant, please start up some sort of campaign for her to help pay her medical bills.  I will gladly donate.

    • Yoav

       This is one more example of how fukced up is the american system of employer provided health insurance. Losing your job sucks anywhere but in no other developed country does losing your job also mean that you and your family no longer can see a doctor unless you just happen to be loaded enough to pay for everything out of pocket.

  • Lucilius

    According to the various news reports, all Samford’s contract said is that she was to be a “Christian role model” – without any definition of what that means.  It’s the arbitrary and draconian interpretation that shocked her. Ultimately it comes down to what “Christian” means: whether being a Christian means using religion to become more wise and loving, or as an excuse to be a sanctimonious dickhead.

    Samford assumed the former; HCA chose the latter.

    That vagueness is ripe for abuse as a double standard, too: a male teacher could commit all manner of “sins” in off-hours, including sexual ones, so long as he presented a pious face in the classroom. But for a woman, even in a committed relationship, pregnancy is out because it’s visible. Gasp! We might have to explain it to the children! We might have to … (shudder) EDUCATE them about how the world works – and there’s just no place for that in a SCHOOL!

    As for those saying, essentially, “Oh, she deserves it because she chose to work there” – any of you tried to get a job lately? While pregnant? In a field packed with other applicants? Without uprooting your family? It’s just not that simple: choice isn’t as free as it looks.

  • Sue Blue

    I see a potential atheist in the making here.  This is the kind of crap that led to me leaving my church.  For many people, being christian is all about the social support and sense of community, not so much the actual belief in God.  If they are then rejected or ostracized by that community, it may be the impetus they need to leave religion behind entirely.  Atheists should reach out to and support these people.

  • Mairianna

    The school is just punishing her for not being legally bound to  someone she can’t stand for all eternity because the church says so, like they all are!   ;^P 

  • pagansister

    In the Catholic elementary scho0l I taught in, the PE teacher had a 2 year old child, and was living with the father, not married to him.  During the 2nd year of her teaching there, she and the father decided to marry, and did so in a huge downtown Cathedral.  The 2 year old daughter was in the wedding.  The school knew she was unmarried with a child, but hired her, and didn’t seem to have a problem.  The children were old enough to know the situation too.    After her marriage, they had another child.  Apparently this Catholic school wasn’t passing judgement on her situation or they wouldn’t have hired her to begin with.   IMO, Catholics can be the first to “condemn” out of wedlock situations, but not in this case.  She was a very good PE teacher too!   This Christian school apparently hasn’t got the same out look as my former employer.  

  • amycas

    I was going to email you about this Hemant, but it seems you already have it covered.

    My question to the school would be: who is being the worst “Christian” role model?

    A. the school administration that is firing a woman who is about to be a new mother and leaving her without a job or health insurance while she’s pregnant?

    B. the teacher who got pregnant before she was married?
    (because these students have never seen or heard of this happening before right?)

    I would think, and I’m falling back on what I was taught as a Christian, that the Christian thing to do would be to forgive her for her transgressions (“…and forgive my trespasses, as I forgive those who trespass against me.”–part of The Lord’s Prayer) and be there for this wonderful teacher in her time of need. I guess teaching the kids that sex is icky and wrong is more important than teaching them to love their fellow humans.

  • Fsq

    When Christians try and use the ” moral exemption” bullshit, I have to shake my head and ask “what morals”? Because they never seem to show any.

  • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/P7XRZYHIF7ELJTK34TWIMIJOJA Ex Patriot

    There is not much I can say except this is apalling. I hpoe she wins big agsinst the school and  rips them a new one. The more of this crap I read the more I am  glad that I have a athiest for the last 40 years 

  • http://annainca.blogspot.com/ Anna

    Sad, but this is exactly what I would expect from a  fundamentalist Christian school. Conservative evangelicals are obsessed with the notion of sexual “sin.” It’s no surprise that they would fire an umarried teacher for being pregnant. In fact, I would have been shocked if they hadn’t fired her.

    I don’t think she has much of a legal case here. This is a private religious school. Other parochial schools have fired unmarried teachers in sexual relationships, have fired teachers for being gay, and have even expelled students for having same-sex parents. All of which seems to be perfectly legal.

    Hopefully, Samford’s students will remember the shabby way their teacher was treated and will reconsider the morality they are being taught. Even if they don’t question their supernatural beliefs, maybe they will (as adults) decide to follow a less rigid form of the religion.

  • Kaydenpat

    So kicking a woman out of her job for getting pregnant before she gets married is “Christian”?  Can the school administrators not forgive her for her sin and let her keep her job and get married?

    What about love?

  • Tom

    It comes to something when a place whose very raison d’etre is supposed
    to be the well-being of children can decide that they’d rather a child be
    born to an unemployed unwed mother than an employed unwed mother, for no other reason than sheer spite, and all in the name of morality and positive role models!

    I’m reminded of a quote, Arthur C Clarke I think, or it may have been
    Asimov: never let your sense of morality stop you from doing the right
    thing.

  • RayZ fox

    lol religion is horrible.

  • Coral Tree

    I know is comment is super late, but: I posted this on my FB page, where a parent of a child at the school saw it. She vehemently defended the school, pretty much called the woman a slut, and said the school was right to fire her. She went on to say that no school would ever touch this woman, now that she had proven herself to be such a risk. It was really upsetting. Point being, people who send their kids to schools like this have an archaic mindset that any woman who dares to have sex out side of marriage deserves to lose everything she has. She kept saying Jesus would have loved her but punished her as well. (I disagree).


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