Sound journalism, grounded in facts and Biblical truth | Donate

Controversy on a Christian school campus


WORLD Radio - Controversy on a Christian school campus

A fired chaplain took his case against his former employer to court

The Supreme Court building is seen on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2023 Associated Press Photo/Patrick Semansky

MYRNA BROWN, HOST: It’s Tuesday the 14th of February, 2023. Glad to have you along for today’s edition of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Myrna Brown.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. Hey, a quick word before we get going. I need to let you know what’s happening over at WORLD Watch. It’s freebie week over there. All this week, you can check out WORLD Watch at no cost to you.

With apologies to Milton Friedman and David Bahnsen—who rightly say there is no such thing as a free lunch—we’re in effect offering you one. A free breakfast, anyway, available every morning at WORLDWatch.today.

BROWN: That’s the special link that unlocks FULL ACCESS for everyone. WORLDWatch.today. You can play episodes and features at no cost—all this week—but just this week.

If you’re already a WORLD Watcher: Tell your friends to press play at WORLDWatch.today.

Check it out and you’ll get to see my story this morning.

EICHER: First up on The World and Everything in It: a Christian school in Colorado is appealing to the Supreme Court.

A sharply divided federal appeals court agreed that a school chaplain who was fired may go to trial to pursue his claim against the school.

Gregory Tucker led a January 2018 chapel talk on faith and race at Faith Christian Academy near Denver. That talk lit a controversy on campus and ultimately led to his dismissal.

Steve West is an attorney and writes about religious liberty issues for WORLD. He recently wrote about this case and he joins us now.

BROWN: Good morning, Steve!

STEVE WEST, REPORTER: Good morning, Myrna!

BROWN: Well Steve, there’s nothing wrong with talking about faith and racial issues in a Christian school, is there?

WEST: Certainly not–and I’ll add that it’s a really important topic to address. Faith Bible Chapel leaders supported Tucker’s plan to address the subject, and yet it was the way he addressed it that proved so divisive. He called students and parents racists and spoke about “white privilege” and “systemic bias,” phrases commonly associated with what is called “anti-racism” and with critical race theory. They addressed what they saw as unbiblical portions of the talk with him. He disagreed, so they removed him as chaplain. Then he continued to have a very public disagreement with the leaders of the school, one that divided parents, so ultimately they asked him to leave–and he’s still posting about it on social media.

BROWN: So, ultimately, he goes to court and files a lawsuit, right?

WEST: That’s right. After he exhausted his administrative remedies, he filed a federal lawsuit, and that’s where it becomes important for the rest of us–for other religious schools, churches, and religious nonprofits. The school raised what’s called the ministerial exception–a judicial doctrine that is derived from the First Amendment’s religion clauses. It’s meant to protect religious organizations from second-guessing by courts of their decisions regarding hiring and firing of ministers and others who have vital religious duties.

BROWN: We have addressed that before, and I recall a ruling from the Supreme Court a couple years ago where that came up, right?

WEST: That’s right. Back in 2020, the court clarified the reach of the ministerial exception–that is, whom it covers–in Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morrissey-Berru. It ruled it did cover two teachers at Catholic schools.

BROWN: That’s not a question here though, right? I mean, Tucker was a chaplain at the school. He’s certainly a minister that would be covered.

WEST: No serious argument was made by Tucker that he was not a person who served a vital religious function. No, this case has to do with what happens when the ministerial exception is raised. Becket Fund attorneys for the school say this is a legal matter that the judge should rule on at the outset of the case, and that it is something that should be immediately appealable. It provides an immunity to litigation, not just a defense. Most courts agree with that. But the trial court and then the appeals court disagreed–meaning the school, and other schools in Colorado and other states covered by the ruling, would be forced into a full-blown trial with all the publicity, time, and expense involved. All of which can drain the resources of nonprofits. And which, Becket argues, really undercuts the purpose of the ministerial exception–keeping courts out of the internal governance of religious organizations.

BROWN: So what happens now?

WEST: The church has asked the Supreme Court to review the case. That doesn’t mean it will, of course, but there has been high interest in religious liberty cases on the court in the recent past, and there is a split in the circuit courts on this issue–so clarity is needed and the time is right. There’s also a second case I reported on for WORLD Digital this week that raises similar issues. In that one, a priest unhappy about being denied a bishopry in the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia has sued, trying to plead around the employment issue by claiming defamation. And the district court and appeals court in New York bought it. So that one is going up to the Supreme Court as well.

BROWN: It sounds like something the court needs to straighten out.

WEST: It is. These cases really hit home for schools and churches. Being forced into trial on a dispute like this is not only disruptive and potentially divisive, time-consuming, and expensive, it also diverts time and money away from ministry. These challenges strike at the heart of the internal operation of these ministries. They need the court to speak clearly about this issue. Ministries don’t need to be thinking about litigation risk with every decision they make. They have the Lord’s work to do.

BROWN: Steve West writes about religious liberty for WORLD Digital. You can read his work at WNG.org. You can also receive his free weekly newsletter on First Amendment issues. We’ve placed a link in today’s transcript. Steve, always good to have you on. Thank you!

WEST: Thank you, Myrna.

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.


Please wait while we load the latest comments...