Kathleen Parker

What a funny world. Where once it was scandalous to be unmarried and pregnant, now it is scandalous to disapprove of another's being unmarried and pregnant.

The latest episode in these morally confused times occurred in New York recently when a Roman Catholic school fired a teacher because she is single and pregnant. The Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn claims that teacher Michelle McCusker violated "the tenets of Catholic morality" and thus could not be employed by the school.

For her part, McCusker claims she was discriminated against and on Monday filed a wrongful dismissal complaint with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. McCusker, 26, a well-respected teacher, according to the school's own principal, said in a statement that she didn't "understand how a religion that prides itself on being forgiving and on valuing life" could fire her for deciding to have a baby.

Implicit in that statement is that McCusker obviously decided not to have an abortion, a result that would have been far more grievous to the Catholic Church.

So what's the answer? Do schools have any say-so when it comes to how teachers comport themselves in their private lives? Do parents have a right to voice objections when a teacher's private behavior contradicts the moral values they're trying to teach at home?

My immediate parental reaction to both questions is "but of course!" Then more reasoned thought reveals the murkiness of such issues. At the same time I don't want teachers advocating behaviors that are potentially harmful, my other reaction is: This is nobody's business. A person's sex life shouldn't be held up for public scrutiny and, as the discrimination suit points out, such policies unfairly target women.

Ultimately, these concerns will be determined by courts along legal rather than moral lines. But the moral questions beg open debate in a culture that increasingly denies the importance of marriage as a prerequisite to childbearing.

McCusker's isn't the first such case and, given our out-of-wedlock birthing trends, it won't be the last. Earlier this year, a kindergarten teacher at a private Christian elementary school in Berrien Springs, Mich., was placed on paid administrative leave until her contract expired in June because she got pregnant before she got married.

The teacher in that case, Christine John, did marry, but not until she was two months pregnant. Officials of the Seventh-day Adventist school said teachers are expected to be "a positive spiritual example for our congregations and youth," and let her go.

Kathleen Parker

Kathleen Parker is a syndicated columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group.
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