Should teachers at a for-profit religious school be required to prove their Christian faith in order to maintain their positions at a Christian faith-based school? This is the question posed in a lawsuit filed by Calvary Chapel's Little Oaks School in Thousand Oaks.
Preschool teachers Lynda Serrano and Mary Ellen Guevara lost their jobs in 2012 after they refused to provide a letter from a pastor which affirmed their Christian faith. The teachers threatened the school with a lawsuit which caused the church to file its own peremptory suit to enjoin the teachers from filing such a suit in that or any other court.
The school, unlike most schools of its kind, was not incorporated as a non-profit, tax-exempt corporation. According to church leaders, this is because the church was on a tight timeline to get the school up and running. The process of obtaining tax-exempt status is long and time-consuming. Despite its for-profit legal status, Church officials state the school is not a profit-generating entity but rather a spiritual arm of the church.
In 2012, the school's administration informed the current teaching staff that they needed to provide religious faith documentation in order to have their teaching contracts renewed. The two teachers refused to provide the documentation which prompted the school to not offer them teaching contracts for the coming year. After being informed about the loss of their positions, the teacher hired the law firm of Epps, Yong, & Coulson to represent them. The firm fired off a letter to the school, stating that the teachers were prepared to file suit, but would settle out-of-court for $150,000 each.
The school elected not to settle and instead chose to file their own suit in U.S. District Court. Their filings indicate they are seeking an injunction barring both the teachers and their law firm from filing their threatened law suit in either federal or state court.
Does all this sound confusing? That's because it is. At issue is whose laws prevail, California's or the federal government. In California, the California Fair Employment and Housing Act bars religious discrimination with a set of exemptions that do not include for-profit religious groups. Calvary Chapel points to federal civil rights laws, the U.S. Constitution, and the California Constitution.
The implications of the case could have significant impact on all profit-based companies owned by religious organization as they will be prevented form having the religious freedom to exercise their beliefs.