The New Jersey Supreme Court recently ruled in favor of a Catholic school, claiming that religious organizations have the right to make their staff follow certain faith-based principles, according to court documents.
According to the ruling, the case involves former teacher Victoria Crisitello whose contract was nullified by St. Theresa School after she revealed she had become pregnant outside of wedlock, which was a violation of the school’s code of ethics. After her contract was now renewed in 2014, Crisitello filed a lawsuit against the school claiming she had been discriminated against.
Despite Crisitello’s claims, the New Jersey justices did not agree, according to court documents.
The New Jersey Supreme Court just issued an important new #religiousfreedom decision, unanimously protecting the right of religious schools to require their teachers to follow their faith without courts getting involved. Find the court’s decision here: https://t.co/ysY2s5BxpC
— BECKET (@BECKETlaw) August 14, 2023
“Based on the facts of this case, we conclude that St. Theresa’s has validly asserted the religious tenets exception as an affirmative defense and that Crisitello has not raised any genuine dispute of material fact regarding the applicability of that defense,” the court wrote.
The court pointed out that Crisitello’s initial complaint to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission argued that she was fired for being pregnant but noted that the school had repeatedly maintained that her contract was not renewed because she engaged in premarital relations, which the school forbids.
The school forbids premarital relations through its “Code of Professional and30 Ministerial Conduct,” according to the Daily Caller. The New Jersey justices argued that Crisitello had “knowingly violated Catholic law” by agreeing to follow this requirement for school employees in her initial contract.
In 2016, a trial court ruled in favor of St. Theresa, but was later overruled by state appellate courts in 2020, according to the ruling. Crisiteello’s attorney, Thomas McKinney argued that the school’s code was discriminatory because “only a woman could be punished, not a man.”
“If you’re going to punish someone for doing something,” McKinney said, “it has to be applied equally and evenly.”
“Teachers make the school,” Eric Rassbach, vice president and senior counsel at Becket, said in a prepared statement. “The whole point of a religious school is to help parents educate their children in their faith. And to do that, schools must have teachers who believe in and follow their faith.”