Oct 112006
Authors: Luci StorelliCastro

Want to avoid gender discrimination at the work place? How about sexual harassment and age discrimination?

Would you like to protect your employee rights to unionize, claim your pension, and receive unemployment benefits?

More importantly, if diagnosed with cancer and fired because your employer doesn’t want to foot the health insurance bill, would you like to file a lawsuit against your employer and actually win?

If the answer to these questions is yes, then I suggest you don’t sign up to work for God.

Last Monday, I almost fell out of my chair reading the cover story of the New York Times about Mary Rosati, a novice training to be a Roman Catholic nun in Toledo, Ohio. Ms. Rosati, a middle-aged woman, alleges that she was dismissed by her order after being diagnosed with breast cancer.

In the complaint she filed, Ms. Rosati relates that, after becoming seriously ill, she was accompanied by a supervisor and the mother superior to the doctor.

It was here that she was diagnosed with breast cancer and given treatment options. At this point, the mother superior announced the inevitable, “We will have to let her go. I don’t think we can take care of her.”

A few months later, according to the complaint, Ms. Rosati learned that the mother superior and the order’s governing council had moved to dismiss her on the grounds that “she was not called to our way of life.”

This left her on the street, without a home, without a job, and without health insurance to combat her ailment. How’s that for holy justice?

Reading up to this point, I was fairly convinced that such flagrant injustice and health-based discrimination would not go unpunished. Yet, as is often the case, I underestimated the power of religious institutions.

In December 2002, a district court ruled that the order’s decision to dismiss Ms. Rosati was wholly “an ecclesiastical decision” that fell beyond the purview of the court because “the First Amendment requires churches to be free from government interference in matters of church governance and administration.”

This ruling does not delineate from the special exceptions and protections that have been granted to religious organizations via the courts. As the New York Times informs, when dealing with cases that come up against religious organizations, the courts have time and again turned to a little known rule termed the ministerial exception or church autonomy doctrine.

Under such a doctrine, the New York Times reports, “judges will almost never agree to hear a controversy that would require them to delve into the doctrines, governance, discipline or hiring preferences of any religious faith.

“Citing the protections of the First Amendment, they have ruled with great consistency that congregations cannot fully express their faith and exercise their religious freedom unless they are free to select their own spiritual leaders without any interference from government agencies or second-guessing by the courts.”

Initially, I was shocked at these findings. How could an organization – especially one that professes to be the embodiment of morality, get away with firing a woman solely because she has breast cancer? I guess I missed the part where it was a sin or somehow illegal to have breast cancer.

Ultimately, however, I can’t help but side with the courts on this decision and the countless others outlined in the New York Times article. If religious people are going to buy into the spoon-fed double-standards and hypocrisy that religious organizations offer, they should be prepared to accept the consequences of when those organizations turn on them.

What is perhaps most disturbing about all this is that many people, who suffer grave injustice at the hands of religious organizations, will likely come out of their ordeal embracing that very religious organization that did them harm.

Ms. Rosati is no different, preferring not to discuss her case with the New York Times because of her continued love of the church.

Love is blind, indeed.

Luci Storelli-Castro is a junior political science and philosophy major. Her column runs every Thursday in the Collegian. Replies and feedback can be sent to letters@collegian.com.

 Posted by at 5:00 pm

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