Emily Herx, a teacher from Indiana, is filing a lawsuit against the school she taught at in a case that could turn into reproductive versus religious rights. Herx was fired from a Roman Catholic school in the state for trying to get pregnant through in vitro fertilization. The lawsuit filed by Herx alleges that the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend and St. Vincent de Paul school in Fort Wayne discriminated against her by firing her from the staff. Herx is from Hoagland, Indiana and said that the pastor of the church told her she is a ‘grave, immoral sinner’ and that scandal would ensue should anyone find out she took in vitro fertilization treatments.
IVF is not permitted by the Roman Catholic Church. Herx said in her eight years as a language arts teacher that she received exemplary performance reviews and was fired despite these reviews. In a statement issued by Diocesan officials on Wednesday, they diocese said that the lawsuit challenges the rights it has “to make religious based decisions consistent with its religious standards on an impartial basis.”
In January, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously that religious employees cannot sue their employers for discrimination because the laws for anti-discrimination permit ‘ministerial exception.’
“The Supreme Court didn’t give us a kind of neat little on-off test as to who’s a minister and who isn’t,” said Rick Garnett, associate dean and professor of law at Notre Dame Law School.
“A lot of Catholic schools, including my own kids’, every teacher brings the kids to Mass, is involved in sacramental activities. … It’s not just one teacher who teaches religion, religion is pervasively involved,” Garnett said. “The key question is whether it would interfere with the religious institution’s religious mission, its religious message, for the government to interfere in the hiring decision.”
The attorney for Herx, Kathleen Delaney, disagreed with Garnett.
“She was not a religion teacher. She was not ordained. She was not required to and didn’t have any religion teaching. She wasn’t even instructed about the doctrine that she violated,” said Delaney.
According to the lawsuit, the school found out about the IVF treatments when Herx told them she was using her sick days for the treatments. The lawsuit also states that officials at the school did not mention there was a problem until later. The diocese stated that the teachers, Catholic or not, are required by their contracts to follow the tenets of the Catholic Church.