Emily Herx was a language arts teacher at St. Vincent de Paul Catholic School when she sought in vitro fertilization treatments in order to get pregnant. Herx and her husband, in keeping with the Church’s teachings about the sanctity of embryos, did not destroy any of their preserved embryos. School administrators were aware of and even allowed time off for her treatments.
But after her third treatment, in February 2011, when the parish priest, Rev. John Kuzmich, got wind of what was going on, he insisted that the school drop Herx’s employment contract. This was on the grounds that she was a “grave, immoral sinner” for seeking fertility treatments, who had in doing so violated the morality proscribed in her school’s employment contract.
Herx appealed the decision internally, but the Fort Wayne-South Bend Diocese was unyielding; so she filed a lawsuit, arguing that the school was guilty of violating Title VII of the Civil Rights Act’s ban on sex discrimination. Among other evidence, she noted that the school responded differently to male teachers who sought fertility treatments than it had to her.
For its part, the school argued that it was justified in doing so on the basis of religious freedom. Indeed, the school took its religious freedom defense to a peculiar length, suggesting that the court didn’t have the right to try the case at all. A religious motivation, they argued, exempted them even from legal scrutiny… because “religious freedom.”
The diocese argued that a trial on this question would violate its freedom of religion and appealed the judge’s decision to a three-judge panel on the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals. “[If] the diocese is required to go through a trial,” attorneys for the diocese and school argued, it would “irrevocably” deny Fort Wayne-South Bend the benefits of religious protection.
The appeal was subsequently rejected and the case proceeded. This past Friday, a federal jury ruled in Herx’s favor, saying that the diocese was indeed guilty of discrimination.
The jury awarded Herx $1.75 million for emotional and physical damages, $125,000 for medical expenses, $75,000 for lost wages and $1.00 in punitive damages.
This is good news for Herx, but it may be short-lived. The diocese is not thrilled and plans an appeal. Indeed, John Theisen, attorney for the Diocese, still seems miffed that judges did not buy his “you can’t even question the legality of what we did, because we did it with religious motivations!” defense.
As he hustled out of the courthouse, Theisen told the small scrum of reporters that the case remained an issue of religious freedom, and that exemptions in civil rights laws for religious employers should have protected the diocese from the unfavorable verdict.
“It never should have brought the case to trial,” he said.
Demonstrating yet again that “religious freedom,” on the lips of America’s religious conservatives, has become nothing more than a euphemism for theocratic privilege: the power to make and break the law, in ways not permitted others, because of religious belief.
(via Raw Story)