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What Is a 'Morality Clause'? Is It Legal?

By Daniel Taylor, Esq. | Last updated on

You can contract for all sorts of things, but is it legal for a contract to contain a "morality clause"?

That's the question many are asking after several teachers at California Catholic schools run by the Oakland diocese have chosen to resign rather than sign a new clause in their contract that requires teachers to model their private lives after church teachings.

Can an employer make you contractually agree to be subjectively "moral"? And where else might "morality clauses" pop up?

Common Morality Clauses

Though there are certain things that can't be contracted for -- you can't make someone agree to commit a crime, for example -- morality clauses are generally acceptable.

In fact, morality clauses are fairly common in certain types of employment contracts. For example, professional athletes often have morality clauses included in their contracts under their respective unions' collective bargaining agreements. And as the Oakland controversy shows, such clauses are common in private (e.g., religious) schools' employment contracts as well.

Morality clauses are also sometimes found in divorce or custody agreements. Clauses in these agreements often try to prohibit divorced parents from having unmarried partners stay in the home while the divorced couple's children are present.

As one recent case shows, this can be especially problematic in states that prohibit same-sex marriage like Texas.

Are Morality Clauses Enforceable?

The problem with morality clauses often comes when trying to enforce them.

Recently, the standardized inclusion of so-called "paramour provisions" in divorce and custody agreements forbidding overnight stays by unmarried partners have been invalidated by courts in Tennessee. "A paramour provision should be included only if a fact-specific analysis of the evidence reveals that the child's best interests depend on it," the Tennessee Bar Association explained.

And though the National Basketball Association has a moral turpitude clause included in its uniform player contract, it has never been successfully applied.

However, it was reported that Jon Gosselin, half of the reality-show couple that starred in the TLC show "Jon and Kate Plus 8," was fired from the show for violating the morality clause of his contract.

Though they may be tough to enforce, including morality clauses in contracts is generally legal; whether or not you want to agree to one, however, is up to you. For more guidance, you'll want to consult an experienced employment lawyer or a family law attorney near you.

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