An Indiana diocese asked a federal court on Monday to reject a lawsuit by a former parochial school teacher who claims she was fired for violating Roman Catholic doctrine by using in vitro fertilization to try to get pregnant.
The Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend and St. Vincent de Paul school in Fort Wayne argued in court documents that Emily Herx's lawsuit should be barred by a federal law that prevents religious workers from suing their employers for job discrimination. That so-called "ministerial exception" law was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in January.
Further, diocese attorneys say any court review of church teachings or employment practices would violate the constitutional separation of church and state and guarantees of religious freedom.
The Roman Catholic Church shuns in vitro fertilization, or IVF, which involves mixing egg and sperm in a laboratory dish and transferring a resulting embryo into the womb.
Herx, 31, of Hoagland, Ind., sued the diocese last month, saying she was fired last June despite exemplary performance reviews in her eight years as a language arts teacher. She said that the church pastor told her she was a "grave, immoral sinner" and that a scandal would erupt if anyone learned she had undergone IVF.
The diocese denies that the pastor used such a phrase. It also says that Herx wasn't fired but that the diocese simply chose not to renew her teaching contract. The diocese says it was within its rights because teachers are required by their contracts to abide by Catholic tenets.
Herx's lawsuit alleged the diocese violated the Civil Rights Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act by discriminating against Herx based on gender and on infertility, which is considered a disability. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission upheld Herx's complaint in January and gave her the go-ahead to file a lawsuit.
Herx's attorney, Kathleen Delaney, and a spokesman for the diocese had no immediate comment.
Delaney said last month that the ministerial exception didn't apply to Herx because she wasn't ordained and didn't teach religion. The Supreme Court ruling didn't define who was or wasn't a religious employee.
Pope Benedict XVI as recently as February urged infertile couples not to use in-vitro fertilization or other forms of artificial procreation, which the church views as an affront to human dignity and the dignity of marriage. The church also opposes IVF because clinics routinely fertilize more eggs than are implanted, and extra embryos may be destroyed.
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