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Little Oaks Elementary became a Christian school in 2009 when it was purchased by Godspeak Church. Then last year, the new management handed out "proof of faith" questionnaires for all staff to fill out about their religious habits and beliefs.
Two teachers refused to fill them out and weren't rehired the next school year. Then they threatened to sue the school. But in a surprising turn, now the school is suing the teachers.
Officials at the Christian school in Thousand Oaks, California, are suing over the teachers' threat to sue. It's a pre-emptive move, since the teachers haven't actually filed suit yet.
The school isn't claiming that the teachers were fired for other reasons; they freely admit the "proof of faith" questionnaire was a requisite for rehiring.
Instead, they insist that as a religious institution, they can require teachers to be members of their faith, as part of the First Amendment right to freedom of religion.
The teachers, on the other hand, claim that California law protects them from religious discrimination in employment, reports NBC News.
Neither party is wrong in claiming that those laws provide them some protection. The issue is that they both can't be right about the law being on their side. When laws clash, one of them has to be the controlling legal doctrine.
In general, the U.S. Constitution reigns supreme over all other laws. When there's a clash between federal protections and state laws, generally the federal government protects you from state laws that would strip federal rights.
But there's the also the issue of limitations. Every law and constitutional protection has limitations in what behavior it protects.
In this case, the teachers claim the "proof of faith" questionnaire violates their rights to not be discriminated against in employment. The school counters that by arguing freedom of religion.
The teachers come right back with the claim that the school is a for-profit entity, reports The Associated Press. If it's not a non-profit, then it shouldn't get a religious exemption, according to attorneys for the teachers.
Who will prevail in this battle of the laws? That'll be up to the judge when the case is heard in court.
Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.