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What can religious schools like King’s High School demand of staff?

Over the summer, several teachers left King’s High School — a private Christian school in the Shoreline area — because the teachers couldn’t accept the school’s position on homosexuality, which is that it violates scripture.

King’s High School says that the teachers had signed an agreement which says they will follow the policy that the Bible is inerrant. Does the law have anything to say about this? Former state Attorney General Rob McKenna joined Seattle’s Morning News to discuss what happened and the ramifications.

“Their new director said that she wanted to re-affirm Christian doctrine within the organization and make sure that everyone working for CRISTA (the parent organization) believe in the doctrines that CRISTA is based on, which means marriage can only be between a man and woman,” McKenna said. “There were teachers who felt that the school was not supportive of LGBT folks, and so they decided to resign.”

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According to The Seattle Times, the teachers at King’s High School felt pushed out and like they had to disavow same-sex relationships, especially with regards to recent language from CRISTA Ministries director Jacinta Tegman.

Despite that, the school, because it’s a religious institution, appears to be within its rights to enforce this employment agreement to the point of actually firing a teacher.

“Because the state and federal anti-discrimination laws have an exemption in them for religious organizations. That’s because of the tension … between different parts of the Constitution,” McKenna said. “We want people to be able to freely practice their religion on the one hand, except we’re not allowed to be discriminatory when we operate a place of public accommodation like a
school.”

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School administrators told The Seattle Times that no teachers were quietly asked to leave, and noted that some signed nondisclosure agreements to receive severance pay.

“I think that any teacher who’s been there for a while has to know that CRISTA’s a fairly conservative Christian organization. They do a lot of great work out in the community, but they have some pretty strict beliefs. They’re being surfaced now in a very explicit way by the current leadership of the school,” McKenna said.

“I respect teachers who decided to resign rather than serve an organization where they simply couldn’t agree with some aspects of that doctrine. You know, you have to have some concern for the students, though, who may not come to the realization that they’re gay or lesbian until they’re several years into their education there.”

“And are they going to feel supported or not? I think that’s a question that school is going to need to deal with.”

Listen to Dave Ross weekday mornings from 5-9 a.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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