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Separation of church and state ends at the bedroom door

Following a successful lawsuit against the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, Brian Butler has now filed a lawsuit against the Butte (MT) Central Catholic Schools on behalf of Shaela Evenson. Announcement of this lawsuit first appeared in the Montana Standard newspaper on Aug. 22, 2014.

Religion turned upside down
Rev. Jim Hetzer

The Diocese of Helena received an anonymous letter informing it that Evenson was pregnant on Jan. 9, 2014. The Diocese fired Evenson on Jan. 10, 2014 on the basis that she had violated her employee agreement that stated that she must follow Catholic teachings to be employed in the local Catholic schools. Evenson taught for nine years. She is not Catholic, and part of her claim is that the Diocese of Helena does not investigate the compliance to church teachings for unmarried males or females.

There was no sexual misconduct involved in Evenson’s pregnancy. Evenson was impregnated through artificial insemination. Evenson successfully delivered a son on March 7, 2014 for her and her partner, Marilyn Tobin. While Pope Francis I has stated acceptance of homosexuals into the Catholic Church, local dioceses like the one in Helena are not as liberal in their views.

Like the 2013 case of Carla Hale in Columbus, OH, Evenson was in conflict with Catholic dogma by having a same-gender partner. The birth of the son through artificial insemination by Evenson was a further violation of Catholic Church teachings.

The Catholic Church has this to say about artificial insemination and in-vitro fertilization (IVF) through the Catholic Courier publication that claims that it represents official church views.

The church considers IVF and artificial insemination morally unacceptable for at least three fundamental reasons.

First, from the time the ovum is fertilized, a separate human life has begun that has its own identity and dignity. Commercial, scientific and other procedures often performed on lives begun in vitro violate the respect and physical and spiritual reverence owed to these lives.

Second, IVF procedures particularly involve producing a number of zygotes (fertilized ova). Some or all are usually placed in a womb; all but one or a few of them usually die one way or another. In some procedures, this involves direct killing of human lives; in others, it may not. At the very least it wrongly places new human life in high risk of death.

And third, this process of initiating new human life is a subversion of the dignity and unity of marriage and of the integrity of natural and necessary parental relationships with children as they come into the world.

The federal regulations stated in the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) are clear that a woman cannot be fired for becoming pregnant.

Pregnancy Discrimination & Work Situations

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) forbids discrimination based on pregnancy when it comes to any aspect of employment, including hiring, firing, pay, job assignments, promotions, layoff, training, fringe benefits, such as leave and health insurance, and any other term or condition of employment.

Butler successfully won the Cincinnati lawsuit based upon this statute, and he is following the same approach for Evenson in the Montana case. If these cases get to the Supreme Court of the US, it is difficult to predict the outcome.

The Hobby Lobby decision allows tightly held corporations to refuse birth control insurance coverage based upon religious grounds. The Catholic Church is a tightly held organization, although not a corporation. Given some of the extremely conservative justices on the Supreme Court that also happen to be staunch Catholics, these decisions could go either way.

The Supreme Court seems unable to apply the 14th Amendment equal protection clause to same-gender marriages, but lower federal courts continue to press forward in declaring these bans as being unconstitutional. If the federal court in Montana decide that the Diocese is liable for damages to Everson, this may set precedents for other states based upon similar lower federal court decisions.

The initial coverage by the Montana Standard provides more details on the timing of the events leading up to the lawsuit.

Separation of church and state should be maintained. State and federal laws prohibit discrimination based upon sexual preferences and pregnancy. The Catholic Church should be required to follow these laws. The Supreme Court may still disagree.

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