Judge OKs California School's Requirement That Employees Have a Pastor for a Reference

Little Oaks Prviate School, a Christian school located in Thousand Oaks, California.
Little Oaks Prviate School, a Christian school located in Thousand Oaks, California. | (Photo: Advocates for Faith & Freedom)

A court has ruled in favor of a private Christian school in California that required employees to have a pastor for a reference.

Judge Henry J. Walsh of the Superior Court of California in Ventura County issued a ruling Monday in favor of Little Oaks Private School.

At issue was a suit brought by two former teachers who argued that they were wrongfully fired for failing to provide a letter from a pastor confirming their membership in a church.

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Judge Walsh concluded that Little Oaks was covered by the "ministerial exemption" as the two teachers were expected to provide a level of Christian instruction to the students.

"Both were performing ministerial functions at regular and repetitive times, and both were introducing the students to Christianity, albeit at a very basic level," wrote Walsh. "… testimony regarding the daily prayers, the weekly chapel, memorizing Bible verses and playing religious music leads the court to conclude that a religious element was integral, and not peripheral to the teaching assignment of both plaintiffs."

Overseen by a church named Calvary Chapel Thousand Oaks, Little Oaks was legally represented by Advocates for Faith & Freedom and the firm Tyler & Bursch, LLP.

Victor Bermudez, director of public outreach for Advocates, provided The Christian Post with a statement from attorney James Long, one of the attorneys representing the defendants in the case, known as Serrano vs. Family Life Faith, regarding the matter.

"Calvary Chapel Thousand Oaks made the decision to employ only those teachers who were called and gifted by the Lord," said Long. "Therefore, just like any job, they requested a reference. But since this job was a ministerial job, which required a calling from God, they required that the reference be from a pastor."

In 2009, Calvary Chapel acquired the once secular private school Little Oaks. In August 2012, they made a requirement of employees that they have a reference from a pastor confirming membership with a church.

Two teachers, both of whom had worked at Little Oaks before the decision on references in 2012, were not offered a contract to teach in 2013 following their failure to provide pastoral letters.

In response to their dismissals, the two teachers filed a lawsuit claiming they had been discriminated against and on March 18 arguments were heard.

"We are grateful that this Court has chosen to protect the liberty of Little Oaks School,"

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