California court affirms school's firing of two teachers over church attendance

State flag of California.Phot: Pixabay

A court in California ruled that the Little Oaks School in Thousand Oaks, Los Angeles, was within its right to fire two teachers over church attendance.

According to the Los Angeles Times, a judge ruled last week to uphold the school's decision to fire teachers Lynda Serrano and Mary Ellen Guevara after the two refused to seek pastoral recommendations for their continued employment with the school.

In 2012, the school's administration issued a memorandum that required its teachers to seek pastoral endorsement. The church wanted pastors to evaluate the teachers' fitness to teach. The evaluation requires pastors to find out, among other things, how often the teachers went to church.

Little Oaks School was a previously secular educational institution, but it was acquired by the Godspeak Calvary Chapel  in 2009. The Chapel proceeded to transform the school's curriculum into a faith-based programme within the next three years, leading to the requirement of pastoral endorsement for the teachers.

Serrano and Guevara refused to submit to pastoral evaluation. As a result, the LA Times reported, the Little Oaks School refused to renew their contracts.

In 2013, the two teachers filed suit alleging religious discrimination and wrongful termination.

In its decision last week, the court ruled that the school is exempt from federal regulations and that the two teachers had qualified as ministers as their duties under the new faith-based system in the school include taking students to chapel once a week and leading prayer three times a day.

The court's decision cited a Supreme Court ruling in 2012 that gave religious organisations exemption from federal discrimination laws. Because of this, the LA Times said, the court ruled that the suit between the teachers and Little Oaks School is "a case between two religious parties where the government cannot intervene." 

The two teachers' attorney described her clients as "devastated."

"They never signed up as ministers. They were teaching secular topics to help the kids get ready for kindergarten," their lawyer told the LA Times.