On Monday, March 23rd, a Ventura County Superior Court judge affirmed the rights of a Christian school in Thousand Oaks, California, to ask that its employees provide a reference from a pastor. Little Oaks School asked their employees to provide the reference in order to renew their contracts each year. Two preschool teachers refused to provide a pastor’s reference and their contracts were not renewed.
They argued that because the school was not a non-profit entity they had no right to require their employees to obtain a pastor’s reference. The school was owned by Calvary Chapel Thousand Oaks and served as a ministry to the community even though it was not separately organized as a tax exempt entity.
Advocates for Faith & Freedom, with the support of Tyler & Bursch, LLP, represented the school and Calvary Chapel Thousand Oaks. They argued that the school is protected by a ministerial exception backed by decades of case law that prohibits courts from intervening in the employment decisions of religious organizations.
The Judge agreed and in his ruling and explained, “the ministerial exception is constitutionally compelled and arises out of the Establishment and Free exercise clauses of the First Amendment…It is based on the concept that secular courts will not attempt to right wrongs related to hiring, firing, discipline or administration of clergy. It extends to church related institutions which have a substantial religious character, which includes church related schools.”
Attorney James Long applauded the judge’s ruling saying, “We are grateful that this Court has chosen to protect the liberty of Little Oaks School. It only makes sense that a Christian school has the constitutional right to require that its teachers provide a reference from a pastor.”
Robert Tyler, General Counsel of Advocates for Faith & Freedom agreed, “This case is a great example of why we need to continue to stand for religious liberty regardless of the cultural climate. We can win as long as we show-up to defend our constitutional rights.”
Calvary Chapel Thousand Oaks’ Pastor Rob McCoy explained the importance of the case saying, “Religious Liberty is a foundational right that must be preserved. This ruling gives cause to celebrate our government’s faithfulness in protecting this right.”