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Teacher fired for abortion rights social media posts sues Catholic school in SC

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The teacher claims her First Amendment rights were violated

A teacher at a Catholic school in South Carolina whose contract was not renewed because of her posts on Facebook in support of abortion rights is now suing the school, claiming that her First Amendment rights have been violated.

According to the July 8 lawsuit, Elizabeth Cox taught at Bishop England High School in Charleston for 16 years before being informed at the end of the last school year, June 7, that her contract would not be renewed.

Cox had shared on Facebook several posts and links expressing pro-choice views, while at the same time listing the Catholic school publicly as her employer.

According to ABC News 4, included among Cox’s social media posts were a quotation from feminist activist Gloria Steinem asserting gun purchasers should be subjected to rigorous screenings similar to those of women seeking abortions, and an unattributed quotation casting suspicion on pro-life claims of people who do not also support gun bans, free healthcare, and other political causes ostensibly meant to protect and improve quality of life.

Another post includes a link to a Washington Post news story, without comment from the teacher, with the headline “Leslie Jones leads the charge against Alabama’s abortion ban in the SNL season finale,” the Charlotte Observer reports.

The Catholic Church has consistently condemned direct abortion, the intentional taking of an innocent human life, as a grave moral evil, and has upheld the sanctity of the life of the unborn child.

Teachers accepting jobs at Bishop England sign contracts agreeing to speak publicly and to act in accordance with Catholic beliefs, regardless of whether they are Catholic, to aid in the “intellectual and spiritual development of students according to the teachings of Jesus Christ and the Roman Catholic Church.” A copy of the contract is included in the lawsuit.

“When we confronted you with the post, you admitted to it and, moreover, reacted in a manner leading us to conclude you would not do so differently in the future,” Bishop England principal Patrick Finneran is quoted as saying in Cox’s termination letter.

“Parents send their children to [Bishop England] expressly because they want a Catholic teaching and upbringing. Your public expression of disagreement with Catholic values undermines that.”

The Diocese of Charleston is not named in the suit, but the school, Principal Finneran, and four additional people Cox believes to be involved in her firing are, ABC 4News reports.

In her lawsuit, Cox contends that her firing “violates political rights and privileges of free speech guaranteed by the United States Constitution and/or the Constitution of the State of South Carolina.” She also argues that her firing violates South Carolina law prohibiting the firing of employees for expressing political opinions.

Cox is seeking a monetary award as well as reinstatement as a teacher at Bishop England. The school has 30 days to respond to the lawsuit.

“Officials with the Catholic Diocese of Charleston and Bishop England High School have received notice of the complaint that was filed on July 8. We will review and file a response to the lawsuit with the court in due time,” diocesan spokesperson Maria Aselage said in a statement to CNA.

Several other cases of teachers being fired for failing publicly to uphold Catholic teaching are ongoing in the US.

This week, a teacher at a Catholic school in Indianapolis whose contract was terminated due to his same-sex marriage announced he is suing the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, one day after reaching a settlement with the school.

In 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously in Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. EEOC that government cannot interfere with religious institutions’ hiring and firing decisions regarding employees whom they consider to be ministers.