Stock Photo - illustration of Christian preschool


On March 23, 2015, Ventura County Superior Court Judge Henry Walsh upheld the right of a for-profit Christian preschool to compel teachers to make a statement of faith and to obtain references from their pastors regarding how frequently they attend church, comment on their faith, and to endorse them as employees a Christian preschool. The judge found that, consistent with the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church v. EEOC, 565 U.S. ___ (2012), anti-discrimination laws do not apply to religious organizations' selection of religious leaders.

The judge ruled that, "the ministerial exception is constitutionally compelled and arises out of the Establishment and Free exercise clauses of the First AmendmentIt 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, Little Oaks Christian Schoolwhich includes church related schools.

In 2009, Godspeak Calvary Chapel in Newbury Park, California bought the formerly secular Little Oaks School in Thousand Oaks. Over the following three years, the school transitioned from a secular facility to a religious school, becoming increasingly faith-based with weekly chapel services and teacher-led prayers three times a day.

In 2011 Little Oaks School instituted a new policy requiring teachers to obtain an endorsement from pastors confirming that they were Christians who regularly attended church services.

Two preschool teachers, Lynda Serrano, 55, and Marry Ellen Guevara, 65, who identified as Christian but did not regularly attend services, refused to obtain the required pastoral statement, and in 2012, the school refused to renew their contracts.

The teachers took the position that they should not be required to attend church in order to be religious or teach at the school, and the school took the position that the teachers were engaged in religious ministry as part of their jobs and can reasonably be expected to demonstrate that they personally have an active faith life.

In a press release, Robert Tyler, General Counsel of Advocates for Faith & Freedom 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."

Godspeak Calvary Chapel Thousand Oaks' Pastor Rob McCoy, who has pastored the congregation since 2001 and is currently running for Thousand Oaks City Council said, "Religious liberty is a foundational right that must be preserved. This ruling gives cause to celebrate our government's faithfulness in protecting this right."

The teachers have 60 days to appeal the court's decision.

There is some interesting procedural history. In 2012, when the teachers threatened to file lawsuits in state court for wrongful termination, the school filed suit against them in federal court, arguing that a state-level lawsuit would violate the church's constitutional guarantee of religious freedom. Federal Judge Dolly Gee dismissed the church's pre-emptive lawsuit because it did not address a current case-in-controversy since it anticipated defenses to a yet-to-be filed state court religious discrimination suit,” and ordered the school to pay the teachers' legal fees for filing a baseless lawsuit.  The next day, the teachers filed this lawsuit in state court.

Godspeak Calvary Chapel shares space with The Place Adventist Fellowship.



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