A taxpayer-funded Christian school in Florida fired two early childhood teachers last month for being lesbians, after both declined an opportunity ’stop being gay’ in order to keep their jobs.
“When I think of losing the job, I don’t even think about the job. I think about the kids, and that makes me cry,” Jaclyn Pfeiffer told WFTV.
Pfeiffer said school officials at Aloma Methodist Early Childhood Learning Center were unaware of her sexuality until rumors began circulating when her girlfriend, Kelly Bardier, accepted a part-time job as a substitute at the school.
Though the women kept their relationship private during work hours, Aloma Methodist School Director Barbara Twatchman called them for a meeting on March 18 to inform them of two things: their sexuality was “not socially acceptable” and they were “living a life of sin.”
Both were fired a couple days later.
Speaking with Religion News Service, Bardier said Twatchman offered them the opportunity to renounce their “sin” before their firings. “We were called into the director’s office and told that if we chose to continue living a life of sin, we would be terminated but if we decided not to be gay anymore, we could keep our jobs,” she said.
RNS also notes, “The firing goes directly against a UMC resolution that condemns ’actions rooted in homophobia and heterosexism, including violence, threats, ridicule, humiliation, discrimination, isolation, and rejection.’”
Parents like Debbie Gibson, who appears in the report below, said a letter informed them that Pfieffer had left for “personal reasons.” After pressing further about the departure of her child’s favorite teacher, school officials explained Pfeiffer no longer worked there due to her “lifestyle choices.”
“My kids adore her and adore everything she’s taught them,” Gibson said. “I wasn’t aware of Jackie’s relationship nor did I care about any of Jackie’s personal relationships.”
Defenders of the school, which is run by Aloma United Methodist Church, argue that religious organizations have the right to dismiss employees who violate their religious doctrines. That right is protected by the First Amendment’s free exercise of religion clause, said Mat Staver, whose Orlando-based Liberty Counsel has represented Christian organizations opposed to gay rights.
“This is the inevitable conflict that will continue to escalate when you elevate same sex rights to a protected status,” he said.
Unfortunately for the women, who are both currently unemployed due to their sexuality, Florida law does not protect people from being fired for their sexuality. Nearby Orlando has nondiscrimination legislation to protect LGBTs from being fired, but Aloma Methodist is technically in Winter Park.