Church Fires Teacher For Out-Of-Wedlock Pregnancy

Photographed by Grace Willis.
A Montana Catholic church is fighting back after being sued for discrimination by a former employee who was dismissed for getting pregnant out of wedlock, the Associated Press reports.

Schoolteacher Shaela Evenson is suing Butte Central Catholic Schools and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Helena for pregnancy discrimination, sex discrimination, and breach of contract. Evenson was fired in January 2014 after officials learned in an anonymous letter that she was unmarried. She had been teaching literature and physical education at the school for nine years. 

Here's the catch: Evenson isn't single, either. She got pregnant through artificial insemination and welcomed the child, a baby boy, last year with her female partner. She is not, however, claiming that her sexual orientation played a part in her firing. The state's ban on same-sex marriage was struck down as unconstitutional in November 2014.

This week, attorneys for the church argued that Evenson can't sue because she knowingly violated the moral and religious teachings of the church. At the heart of the diocese's case is a federal religious exemption that prevents ministerial employees from filing discrimination claims. In the past, the ministerial employee distinction has been defined as someone whose "primary duties consist of teaching, spreading the faith, church governance, supervision of a religious order, or supervision or participation in religious ritual and worship.”  

The church is arguing that, because Evenson led her classes in prayer, attended Mass and religious-education classes, and participated in other faith-based activities, she falls under the religious exemption. That classification would prohibit her from suing.

Attorneys for Evenson disputed the religious-exemption claim. A trial is set for next April.  

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