Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Church's and employee's rights in firing

* Virginia pastor defends decision to fire unwed mother

Though this does not appear to be widely disseminated news, it is interesting to me. It fits the ongoing saga of the place (and rights) of churches in pre-post-Christian America. The Staples Mill Road Baptist Church of Glen Allen, Virginia fired employee Apryl Kellam from their day care. Apryl is not married and expecting a baby. Though no one put it clearly in anything I read, conceiving/having a baby out of wedlock appears to violate the church's policies. One would think so! (But I still live in the stone age.) It is not clear whether she lives with the father of the expected baby, but according to the couple Apryl was advised to get married in order to keep her job. She was hired in September, and according the boyfriend Coalson, she never should have been hired if the church feels that way. It is not clear just what he meant, but that seems to imply that the church knew they were living together at the time Apryl was hired. Also sounds like she was already pregnant when she was hired, though the church would not have necessarily known it (Sept-Apr is not 9 months). It is not clear whether Apryl Kellam is a member of Staples Mill Road Baptist Church.

Another angle of this, though, is when churches step into the role of employer they are going to come in contact with hiring laws, including those against discrimination. In most employee-employer relationships the employee usually can't be fired for getting pregnant (or can she?). How will these murky waters be waded? Only time will tell. 100 years ago most churches didn't have "employees" in the sense that would be so regarded today. 50 years ago some churches had some employees, but those employees probably had a strong sense of church doctrine and practice, and the likelihood of the church, employee and state running afoul with one another was probably relatively minor. Now we have detailed laws regarding employment, hiring and firing. Most of those were developed more with businesses in mind (as opposed to churches). Many people, even those who attend the more conservative churches, often have personal beliefs that vary widely from the church. The overall mixture in 2015 is definitely ripe for conflicts of the interests of a church and its employees and the state.

My personal solution is that churches get out of "business" -- not be an employer and have no employees. But that is only in line with my beliefs and not with those of the majority of churches. For the rest, as a religious entity a church needs to be able to hire and fire within the parameters of her doctrines and policies. Only when she steps outside of those parameters should she be found in violation of her "employer" role.

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