Four teachers and seven other employees at a Southern California religious school have been dismissed because of differences in biblical interpretation and incompatible beliefs.
Most of the dismissed workers are Roman Catholics whose beliefs conflict with those of Corona's conservative evangelical Crossroads Christian Schools, which last year came under the umbrella of the 8,000-member Crossroads Christian Church next door. School superintendent Beth Frobisher says officials took a closer look at the religious beliefs of employees in an effort to make school and church teachings compatible.
The fired employees had been told a year ago of the school's closer relationship with the church and a requirement that they attend a "Bible-believing church," meaning born-again.
Still, they were distressed.
"I just loved the sense of family, or what I thought was family," fired kindergarten teacher Sue Fitzgerald, a Catholic who worked at the school for 14 years, told The Associated Press.
School superintendent Beth Frobisher said officials took a closer look at the religious beliefs of employees in an effort to make school and church teachings compatible.
"How can the school be a ministry of the church if what is spoken and taught into the hearts of the children isn't consistent with what is taught in the church?" Frobisher told the Press-Enterprise.
Eleven families pulled their children out of the 583-student Riverside County school because of the firings, Frobisher said.
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Experts disagree on whether the dismissals were legal. Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of UC Irvine's law school, said federal and state law prohibit religious-belief requirements in schools, even if, as at Crossroads, religion is infused throughout the entire curricula. The only exception is religious-education classes.
"They can specify they have to teach the subjects in a certain way," Chemerinsky said. "But they cannot discriminate in employment based upon religion."
But Thomas Cathey, director of legal/legislative issues for the Colorado-based Association of Christian Schools International, to which Crossroads belongs, said the school falls under a religious-institution exemption in federal law and has a right to hire and fire employees whose religious beliefs aren't in sync with its own.
Kurt Fredrickson, associate dean of Pasadena's Fuller Theological Seminary said many conservative evangelical schools see a strong need to protect children from outside cultural influences.
The Riverside County preschool-through-ninth-grade school, which has 583 students, is adding 10th grade this year.