The month of March ended with a sweet victory for all those who support religious liberty. Ventura County Superior Court Judge, Henry Walsh, affirmed the rights of a Christian school to ask that its employees provide a reference from a pastor.
When parents send their kids to schools that bear the “Christian” title they rightfully expect the school to provide a quality Christian education backed by biblical values. They also expect those teachers charged with the care of their children to share in these values. Little Oaks School in Thousand Oaks, California is a Christian school that takes this responsibility very seriously. For the 2012 school year, Little Oaks asked their employees to provide the reference from a pastor in order to renew their teaching contracts. Two preschool teachers refused to provide a pastor’s reference and their contracts were not renewed.
The teachers argued that because the school was not a non-profit entity, the school did not have the right to require teachers 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.
Attorneys from Tyler & Bursch, LLP, with the support of Advocates for Faith & Freedom, represented the school and Calvary Chapel Thousand Oaks. They argued that the school is protected by a ministerial exception backed by case law that prohibits courts from intervening in the employment decisions of religious organizations regardless of whether the school is formally organized “for profit” or “not for profit.”
Judge Walsh agreed, explaining that “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 Judge Walsh’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.”
As the story garnered attention in the media, many took to Facebook, Twitter, and the Advocates website (faith-freedom.com) to weigh in. The vast majority brought words of encouragement and support for the court’s decision and the school’s unwavering commitment to ensuring students receive a quality Christian education and care:
“This is a banner day… it is a testimony to the glory of God and His hand being upon a righteous judge and lawyers.”
“It’s a victory for freedom of religion. Thanks for your faith.”
“This is a wonderful affirmation of the right of a religious organization to insure that those that represent that organization also meet the standards of that organization. Thank you to all who were involved and to the Judge.”
Others, however, different opinion:
“All Christians are crazy.”
“Pretty sad to see people happy about this…you don’t need to be Christian to be a good teacher.”
Nevertheless, there is nothing sad about this decision. As Calvary Chapel Thousand Oaks’ Pastor Rob McCoy explained, “Religious Liberty is a foundational right that must be preserved. This ruling gives cause to celebrate our government’s faithfulness in protecting this right.”
Robert Tyler, Managing Partner of Tyler & Bursch, LLP and General Counsel of Advocates for Faith & Freedom agreed and stated, “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.”
We promise to continue to show-up and defend your constitutional rights. We trust in the Lord and depend on your prayers and support as we continue to fight for your religious liberties. Please consider making a tax deductible donation today of $10, $50, $100, or $500. Be assured of our prayers for you and may God bless you and your loved ones.
In His Service,
Victor Bermudez Director of Public Outreach