Sacked pro-choice teacher teacher sues Catholic school

Sacked pro-choice teacher teacher sues Catholic school July 15, 2019

THREE Facebook posts that attacked anti-abortionists led to the firing of Elizabeth Cox from her job at Bishop England High School in Charleston, South Carolina – and she’s hit back by launching a lawsuit that claims the school ‘committed a criminal offence’.

Two of the posts called out hypocrisy within the anti-abortion movement, and the third related to Alabama’s strict new law banning abortions in almost all circumstances  – including in cases of rape and incest.

Image via The Daniel Island News

The lawsuit argues that the Catholic school and its principal, Patrick Finneran, above, “committed a criminal offence” by firing Cox because of her:

Political opinions, free speech and/or exercising the political rights and privileges guaranteed by the United States and/or the South Carolina Constitutions.

She is seeking an unspecified amount in damages, lost wages, and reinstatement.

Cox was a teacher at the Roman Catholic school in the Diocese of Charleston for about 16 years, according to the lawsuit. She accepted the school’s offer to renew her employment for the 2019-2020 school year. But in early June, Cox received a letter from Finneran stating that she was being fired because she had supported abortion on a public Facebook account that identified her as a teacher at the school.

Finneran wrote in the letter, which was included in the complaint:

When we confronted you with the post, you admitted to it and, moreover, reacted in a manner leading us to conclude you would not do differently in the future. Parents send their students to our school expressly because they want a Catholic teaching and upbringing, and your public expression of disagreement with Catholic values undermines that.

FYI: The school’s theme for the year is 1 Corinthians, Chapter 16, verse 14:

Your every act should be done with love.

In a May Facebook post, Cox shared a quote about abortion popularly misattributed to the feminist activist Gloria Steinem. The quote points out how differently conservatives treat young women who seek abortions and young men who want to buy guns.

How about we treat every young man who wants to buy a gun like every woman who wants to get an abortion – mandatory 48-hour waiting period, parental permission, a note from his doctor proving he understands what he’s about to do, a video he has to watch about the effects of gun violence …

Let’s close down all but one gun shop in every state and make him travel hundreds of miles, take time off works, and stay overnight in a strange town to get a gun. Make him walk through a gauntlet of people holding photos of loved ones who were shot to death, people who call him a murderer and big him not to buy a gun.

Cox commented that the quote was “brilliant,” according to a copy of her Facebook post included in the complaint.

Cox’s second post also called out double standards within the anti-abortion movement.

That post read:

I’ll start believing you’re pro-life when you:
– ban guns
– have free healthcare for all
– stop separating families at the border
– offer cheap, prescribed birth control
– raise minimum wage
– improve the quality of education in schools
– act on the climate crisis
– improve mental health care

The third Facebook post mentioned in the lawsuit was a link to an article from The Washington Post with the headline, “Leslie Jones leads the charge against Alabama’s abortion ban in the SNL season finale.

The school’s teacher employment contract contains a line stating that all teachers and employees are considered “active ministers” who understand they must:

At all times publicly speak and act in accordance with the mission and teachings of the Roman Catholic Church.

Cox’s lawsuit names as defendants the high school, Finneran, and four unnamed individuals involved in the decision to terminate her employment.

The Diocese of Charleston said on Friday that it and the school are reviewing the complaint and will:

File a response to the lawsuit with the court in due time.

Catholic leaders often speak against abortion, but studies show that Catholics in the pews are divided on the issue. About 22 percent of Catholics believe abortion should be illegal in all circumstances, according to a 2018 Gallup poll. About 53 pwercent said it should be legal in certain circumstances.

In practice, American Catholics procure abortions at about the same rate as American women overall, according to a report from the Guttmacher Institute.

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  • Matt G

    I think a big question here deals with whether she is a “minister” in a legal sense. She doesn’t do minister things for them, she does teacher things. I’m trying to remember a case from several years ago in which it was decided that you COULD discriminate against a clergy person (like Catholics can discriminate against a Baptist minister) in hiring, but not against teachers.

  • Lurker111

    Alas, I don’t the First Amendment protects you, legally, against the speech-limiting actions of private entities. To win this, her attorney will need to pull a few more rabbits from his hat than he may think he has to.

  • Delta

    I’m not familiar with South Carolina law specifically, but yeah. Just like with any garden-variety homophobe or racist who throws a fit when his employers read his Twitter feed and act accordingly, freedom of speech does not exactly apply to the actions of the private sector.

    Maybe she could argue that a religious organization firing her over her political views violates the rules for tax-exempt religious organizations?

  • Lurker111

    There’s a thought.

  • Matt G

    Even if a cop is posting racist stuff on his/her private accounts while off duty, his/her ability to police fairly is rightly called into question. Can the person “turn off” the racism when on the job? How do this teacher’s private postings affect her performance of her job? Not at all, as far as I can tell. I’m an atheist teaching at a Christian school. Does my atheism affect my performance of my job? Not in the least. I would argue that I set a better example for the students than the average Christian at my institution.

  • rubaxter

    I guess if you want to live in SC, Charleston is the Moneybags city, but there are several FAR nicer places to teach than that Jim Crow shi&#8203tehole. I avoid it whenever I can, even though Atlanta is much farther away and more congested. Charleston is just booboisie Hilton Head with more Old Money, far shitt&#8203ier flooding, and cr&#8203ap weather.

  • Broga

    If RC priests and their followers, handing out these sackings, while whining about following the church’s teaching, were exemplars of moral behaviour then they might not arouse such revulsion. The church’s teaching seems wonderfully malleable in its interpretation by individuals and Popes have no difficulty changing what was once thought absolute and unchangeable doctrine.

  • barriejohn

    At all times publicly speak and act in accordance with the mission and teachings of the Roman Catholic Church.

    What sensible person would sign a contract like that?

  • Eric Jameson

    Abortion is a holocaust every bit as evil as the murder of 6 million Jews.

  • Matt Brooker (Syncretocrat)

    Then support practical measures like free contraception, age-appropriate sex education and adequate social security for poor families, which are all shown to actually reduce abortion rates. Attempting to eliminate abortion by banning the procedure works no better than trying to eliminate industrial accidents by banning amputation.

  • Eric Jameson

    “poor families” – who have money to spend on iphones, compouter games and all the latest gadgets and gizmos.

  • Waski the Squirrel

    I can’t help but wonder whose side we would take if a teacher posted something racist on Facebook and was fired over that, especially if they posted that they were a teacher at a specific school?

    I agree with her, but I can see the school’s perspective too. The Catholic school she works for is opposed to abortion, and she’s using their name to say she supports it.

    And all this brings up an important question. At what point is it freedom of opinion and speech, and when is it harmful to the employer? I say they should fire the hypothetical racist teacher: I wouldn’t trust that teacher with minority students, and they make the school seem unwelcoming. What about when I posted on Facebook my pleasure at the Obergefell v. Hodges decision, while some of my colleagues posted about how horrible it was? Do either of those posts rise to the level of firing? What about when I add that we live in a very right-wing community?

    The more I think about this article, the more complications I see, especially when I read some of the language of her contract: “At all times publicly speak and act in accordance with the mission and teachings of the Roman Catholic Church.”

    I’m all about free speech, but I see a problem when that free speech undermines the employer’s mission. And I don’t know if the law has really settled that area yet.

  • phatkhat

    Ah, yes. The “Welfare Queens”. That’s a myth, you know.

  • Matt Brooker (Syncretocrat)

    Just to be clear (because I did phrase it badly) I’m talking about free contraception and better sex education for all income brackets, and also adequate social security for poor families, since deciding between having another child and feeding your existing ones is a thing for the poorest families. I’m not suggesting that abortion is entirely a low income issue, though abortion restrictions do have a disproportionate effect on those sectors of society.

  • Matt Brooker (Syncretocrat)

    But, given that abortion is, according to you, “a holocaust every bit as evil as the murder of 6 million Jews,” wouldn’t It be worth holding your nose and supporting people whose lifestyles you disagree with in order to prevent such a catastrophe? Because if it isn’t, doesn’t that show that your actual priority is controlling the lifestyles of others instead of preventing such a “holocaust?”

  • Matt Brooker (Syncretocrat)

    Some data to back up my assertions about the relationship between legality of abortion, rates of abortion and poverty:
    (H/t Captain Cassidy of Roll to Disbelieve)