A month after a former Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary professor filed suit against the school for her dismissal because of her gender, the seminary filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit.
SWBTS cited the relationship between the school and its professors the same as that between a church and its ministers.
"Any decision the Seminary may make regarding the employment of one of its professors is an ecclesiastical decision, which this Court is bound to accept out of deference for the free exercise of religion, protected by the First Amendment," stated the seminary, according to Baptist Press.
The motion was filed on Apr. 9 with the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas to dismiss allegations by Sheri L. Klouda who sued for breach of contract, fraud and defamation.
Klouda, now teaching at Taylor University in Upland, Ind., had taught Hebrew at SWBTS since 2002 until her contract was terminated last December. Alluding to the Southern Baptist statement of faith which limits the pastorate to men, Southwestern trustee chairman Van McClain said women should not teach men in theology or biblical languages. Women at Southwestern do teach music and other classes at the seminary, he noted. The chairman also argued that Klouda "did not have tenure."
Instruction of future pastors is limited to men, said seminary president Paige Patterson.
"I don't think it was right to hire me to do this job, to put me in the position where I, in good faith, assumed that I was working toward tenure, and then suddenly remove me without any cause other than gender," said Klouda, according to The Associated Press.
Klouda had alleged in her suit that Patterson assured her that her position as a Hebrew professor was secure. The seminary, however, argued the claim of an oral contract "lacks sufficient definition" under Texas law, the Baptist Press reported.
The female professor also alleged she was informed she would not get tenure because she was "a mistake that the trustees needed to fix," according to the lawsuit. Moreover, McClain had called Klouda's hiring a "momentary lax of parameters" of the seminary, according to AP.
In its motion for dismissal, the seminary said the alleged statement, "when construed in the context of Plaintiff's claim, are capable of being proved true or false. A claim of defamation does not exist in the absence of a false statement."
Klouda had been hired for the tenure-track position when Ken Hemphill was president of the seminary. Hemphill told Dallas Morning News that at that time, "there was not a policy where [women] would not be able to teach church history or the [biblical] languages." Patterson became president in 2003 after Hemphill resigned.
Meanwhile, McClain told the local newspaper earlier this year that he does not know of "any women teaching in any of the SBC (Southern Baptist Convention) seminaries presently in the area of theology or biblical languages.
"In my estimation all of the seminaries have sought to be more consistent with most Southern Baptists' understanding of Scripture on the matter."
While Klouda requested a trial by jury, the seminary requested in its motion to dismiss the suit "such other and further relief, at law or in equity, to which it may be justly entitled."