What is a school? Today, we think of school as an institution or even as a building. But school comes from the Greek skhole, “leisure”—i.e., clear your schedule of mundane tasks and make time to contemplate what matters. It only makes sense, then, that parents who send their children to school, and the teachers who teach them, should have some idea of what matters, and of how to impart that to students.
For some time in this country, we have lived with a distinction between two kinds of schools: public and private. For many, the difference amounts to public versus parochial, or secular versus Christian. If you don’t want your child to be exposed to Darwin’s theory of evolution or Heather Has Two Mommies, you are free to enroll your child in the Christian school of your choice—provided that you continue to finance Heather through your tax dollars.
Edward Gay, attorney at law, is challenging that distinction. He insists that, according to the federal courts, every school in America is secular. “The teachers are serving a secular purpose,” he says.
Mr. Gay recently appeared on NBC’s Today show, seated next to his client, Jarretta Hamilton, as she held her eight-month-old daughter, Sarah, for their interview. [Arithmetic alert!] Also present was her “husband of 16 months,” Samuel Treftz.
Miss Jarretta taught fourth-grade at the Southland Christian School in St. Cloud, Florida. Her tenure ended when she met with school principal Jon Ennis to request six weeks of maternity leave. By her account, Mr. Ennis slumped back in his chair, minuends, subtrahends, and differences racing through his head.
“I’m just trying to do the math here—when were you married?” he asked, and she answered. He then said bluntly, “Did you conceive prior to marriage?” By her own account the flummoxed newlywed “was just being honest” when she blurted out that the child she was carrying was conceived three weeks before her nuptials.
“Imagine getting fired from your job for being intimate with your husband-to-be,” said a ruminatively incredulous Ann Curry, framing the show segment.
Imagine! Imagine a Christian school that requires students to refrain from having sex and threatens them with expulsion if they are caught. Imagine a newly hired teacher being told (in writing) that she is expected to uphold the school’s standards of Christian morality.
Well, you don’t have to imagine, because that is the case at Christian schools all over the country.
After Miss Jarretta was notified of her termination, the school’s teaching staff met and were informed of the reason for their colleague’s future absence. Then school officials called the parents of each of her students and explained the situation.
This, says Attorney Gay, is a violation of her privacy, and we all know the Precedent to which that alludes. Gay is also suing under “federal gender discrimination laws.” (What does it mean to be Woman if you can’t . . . be intimate?)
Admittedly, in order to preserve this woman’s dignity, the school could have left the reason for her firing in the teachers’ lounge. Whatever their reasoning, they should’ve known that making such an announcement to parents would likely evoke sympathy for a teacher with a hitherto unblemished record.
And yet, the coverage of this sad story reveals a curious double standard when it comes to residual Christian morality. If premarital sex is shameful, why would this married mother agree to appear on national television in a segment called “Fired for Fornication”? On the other hand, if there is no shame in it, why are Attorney Gay, the Hamilton-Treftzs, Ann Curry, the HuffPo, the New York Daily News, etc., outraged at Miss Jarretta’s scarlet letter?
I mean, what’s the use of a scarlet letter if everyone thinks the A stands for “excellent job”?
As if to underscore this contradiction, Curry rolled tape of local coverage of the story. In a tone fit for asking Tom Cruise about thetans and Venusians, the reporter demanded of Principal Ennis, “Do you stand behind the fact that you believe the teacher committed an immoral act?”
“Of her own confession” was his obviously premodern response.
Curry asked Miss Jarretta what she would say to people who believe that a Christian school can set its own rules for the teachers it employs. After an awkward pause, Mr. Treftz pointed out that his wife had not been asked to sign a “specific morality clause” that defined fornication as a sin. Miss Jarretta quickly added, “At least people would know what they were getting into. I didn’t know . . . that this was the way they felt about premarital sex.”
A Christian school, Gay insists, is not a church. “The courts have consistently ruled that a private school is just like any other employer.” If the courts agree with Gay, then do the math. In each equation, subtract Christian from Christian school to determine what matters.