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Calif. Christian School Sues Ex-Teachers Over Proof of Faith Dispute

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By Leonardo Blair, CP Reporter
January 29, 2013|6:54 pm

A Christian school in Southern California has recently filed its own lawsuit against two of its former teachers who had sued the school for being fired after refusing to provide proof of their Christian faith.

The Little Oaks School in Thousand Oaks filed a lawsuit in federal court last Wednesday, claiming its right to hire teachers who subscribe to the school's Christian belief, arguing that its hiring practice is protected by civil rights laws at both the state and federal levels.

The teachers, Lynda Serrano and Mary Ellen Guevara, however, claim they are protected from religious discrimination being exercised by the school under California's Fair Employment and Housing Act that applies to for-profit religious groups. The school is recognized as a for-profit entity owned by Calvary Chapel of Thousand Oaks.

The teachers were fired in 2012 from the Little Oaks School in Thousand Oaks when they refused to provide the school with a statement of faith and a reference from a pastor. The teachers then threatened a lawsuit alleging religious discrimination and asked for $150,000 each as settlement.

School officials insist that they are a Christian school noting that their for-profit status is a mere technicality that only exists because they did not have the time to file the necessary non-profit paperwork when they purchased the formerly non-religious school in 2009.

"We're a Christian school," the Rev. Rob McCoy, pastor of Calvary Chapel and headmaster of the school, told the County Star last week. "We were coming to the point where we were establishing a Christian curriculum. We wanted to make sure our teachers subscribed to that faith."

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An Nbcnews.COM report noted that when the church bought the school in 2009, it began requiring employees to complete questionnaires that asked about their church attendance and what their pastor had to say about their beliefs.

By this action said the teachers' attorney, Dawn Coulson, "We do believe their personal rights were violated."

Rick Kahdeman, the school's attorney, however, said his client was simply exercising its constitutional right to freedom of religion. "The teachers chose not to [fill out the paperwork], and they knew it was a condition of employment," he told NBC.

The school's lawsuit not only names the two teachers but the law firm that represents them as well, according to utsandiego.com. It alleges that the California Fair Employment and Housing Act is unconstitutional when used to restrict a religious school's hiring practices, even if the group is for-profit.

In his assessment of the teacher's lawsuit, McCoy said if they prevailed it would have serious implications on religious freedom. "Any for-profit company that is owned by a religious organization will not have the religious freedom to exercise their beliefs," he said.

 

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