Religion, to its believers and interpreters, is infallible. It is absolute folly bordering on offensive ignorance that would suggest someone should argue against tenants and teachings that people have believed in for thousands of years, and even if one does not believe in any organized religion, one should recognize the belief and lifestyle that encompasses those who do as being a positive.
However, its interpreters are another matter. Often times, in an attempt to uphold “strong moral convictions,” they lose sight of more important matters. Such is the case with Heritage Christian Academy in Rockwall, Texas. Last fall, the school fired 29-year-old volleyball coach and science teacher Cathy Samford for being pregnant out of wedlock.
Despite the fact that Samford admitted that she and her fiance were planning on getting married — even offering to get married ahead of schedule to keep her job — the school saw fit to fire her as some kind of moral stand on Christian beliefs and morals. This one “oversight” notwithstanding, Samford seemed an exemplary staff member who was even honored as coach of the year by the very school who is now letting her go.
The position taken by the school was that a teacher being pregnant out of wedlock would not send the right message to the impressionable young minds she was mentoring.
So just to summarize, being an otherwise upstanding and good human being who just happened to be impregnated by the man she loved is not sending the right message. Firing a woman based on a singular edict of one’s religion — leaving her with less income to raise the young life she is about to bring into the world — is exactly the kind of “morality” Heritage Christian Academy is looking to foster.
I should probably use this opportunity to make myself clear. I am not looking to bash Christianity or Christian morals. I am, however, looking to criticize the kind of backward interpretation that seems to be going on here.
It is currently the year 2012. Social norms are rapidly changing with every passing year, and while change does not automatically mean “progress,” it is necessary that we as human beings closely examine what morals are most important for us to foster in coming generations. While it is not the conventional Christian belief to support sex and childbearing between two unmarried people, is it truly that important to continue pretending as if this scenario does not exist?
Furthermore, is it worth jeopardizing the livelihood of a good person just to prove that point?
Sadly, this incident is not isolated either. In Florida, a non-denominational Christian school allegedly fired a fourth-grade teacher named Jaretta Hamilton because her baby was conceived before marriage. In Ohio, one Christa Dias was fired from a Catholic school when she became pregnant through artificial insemination.
Both these cases have been taken to the courts, and Samford intends to bring up a lawsuit in hers as well. And while it would be encouraging to think that the law would fall on the side of the mothers — especially with the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 protecting the rights of pregnant women from their employers — several elements make this issue far more complex.
Firstly, in the case of Heritage Christian Academy, staff members are claiming that since their school is a “private” school, they must adhere to a much stricter subset of rules. The fact that staff members also claim that faculty members serve as surrogate “ministers” only makes that argument more defensible.
Secondly, and more importantly, this issue deals closely in religion. Church and state have always had a relationship that was more than sticky, and while it would be a boon and a half to women’s rights for these women to win said cases, it also would push hard against evangelicals and their beliefs.
But it is important that they do win. Again, I would never assert that it is the basic foundations of religion — Christianity or otherwise — that require “pushing.” It is also important that we do not think of the followers of said religions as a singular mass lacking in any nuance or stratification.
However, the people who act as if those teachings override a basic sense of humanity in favor of hard and fast interpretation are a different story. Those people might benefit from a little “pushing.”