Christian School Wins Legal Battle Against Teachers Fired for Refusing to Affirm Their Faith

ICC Note: In 2012, the Christian church-owned Little Oaks Elementary School required that its teachers submit a form affirming their Christian faith as part of their contract renewal. When two teachers refused to submit the document, they were dismissed from their positions. After legal action was taken, Superior Court Judge Henry Walsh concluded that the school had done nothing wrong by setting their own hiring criteria as a religious organization.

By Heather Clark

03/27/2015 United States (Christian News Network) – A Christian school in California has won a complicated legal battle regarding two teachers who sued the school after their contracts weren’t renewed as they refused to provide proof of their Christian faith.

Little Oaks Elementary School is a pre-k through 5th grade institution owned by Calvary Chapel of Thousand Oaks. As previously reported, the church purchased the school in 2009, and in 2012, required all teachers to complete a form affirming their faith in Christ as a part of the renewal of their teaching contract.

However, two of the teachers, Lynda Serrano and Mary Ellen Guevara, refused to submit the document, which in addition to outlining a statement of faith, mandates that a pastor attest to their church attendance and Christian beliefs.

Because the women would not obtain the required pastoral reference as a part of the renewal process, they were both dismissed from their jobs. One of the teachers had been hired prior to Calvary Chapel’s purchasing of the facility.

The women then threatened to sue the school after being fired, stating that they were being discriminated against.

“They did not believe they should be required to obtain a pastoral reference in order to continue their employment,” Dawn Coulson, attorney for the teachers, wrote in a letter to officials at Calvary Chapel.

In court, Coulson argued that because the organization was not set up as a non-profit entity, although it is owned by a church, it should not be permitted to require teachers to submit pastoral references.

However, attorneys for Little Oaks Elementary School noted that federal case law affirms the right of religious organizations to set their own criteria for who they will and will not employ, and to make hiring decisions consistent with their faith.

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