Thursday, March 22, 2007

Religious Discrimination in Private Schools

After discussing religious discrimination in higher education and private schools, I wanted to bring up a situation that occurred at my high school pertaining to this issue. One of the female teachers at my Catholic high school was rumored to have engaged in sexual activity with a former student, however she was not married. At the end of the year, my high school did not invite her back, and there was no public acknowledgement as to why she did not come back. This action appeared to be a double standard as there were several female students in my time in high school that were allowed to continue attending school even though they were pregnant. If the reason behind letting the teacher go was to maintain a good image with regards to Catholic beliefs, I did not see why students were allowed to continue going to school even though they broke those same beliefs. For me, I would think that students showing a disregard to Catholic beliefs would carry the same if not more weight in affecting other students perceptions than a teacher's actions. Although this issue goes beyond just an employer-employee relationship, I feel it still pertains to the issue we are currently discussing in class. Do you think the school was out of line in not inviting the teacher back? What do you think would have been a fair action by the school?


Blogger Professor Prenkert said...

Without knowing more, I'll steer clear of answering whether I think the school was out of line in not asking the teacher back. (If the relationship between the student and the teacher were more than just a rumor, then I think the school would have been justified in firing the teacher, regardless of the religious nature of the school.)

A slightly different take on this topic, though, is whether a religious school has a justification for treating its employees differently from its students when it comes to the students'/employees' failure to live up to the religious practice or lifestyle expectations of the school. Nick seems to suggest that the school was hypocritical because it (allegedly) took action against the teacher for engaging in an act (i.e., sexual activity outside of a married relationship) that the school determined was inconsistent with the religious beliefs it endorsed, while the school allowed pregnant and unmarried students -- who, one presumes, must have also engaged in that forbidden act (I suppose it's rational to conclude that Nick's school was not subject to an outbreak of modern-day immaculate conceptions) -- to remain enrolled. Religious organizations, especially religious schools have been known to justify such differential treatment because the teacher is a role model. In fact, some courts have gone as far as to treat "role model" status as a basis for a BFOQ defense (though, in particular instances, that justification has failed as well).

Does that "role model" justification wash the stink of hypocrisy from the school, at least in the sense that it treated the teacher and the students differently?

9:24 AM  
Blogger Jenny Rubenstein said...

I believe that the school was probably justified in firing the teacher, on the basis of the example they are expected to set for their students as a person of authority and the professional relationship that they are expected to uphold.

Regarding whether or not it was fair for the school not to invite the teacher back and allow the student to continue attending, I believe that the decision relates to the nature of public schools themselves. While the teacher-student sexual relationship and the school's pregnant students run contrary to its Catholic beliefs, it should be noted that private schools are dependent on funding from private sources (tuition). Since the teacher did not contribute financially to the school, it was probably an easier decision to let him go than kick out the student and lose money.

6:12 PM  

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