In the latest skirmish between advocates of gay rights and religious liberty, two preschool teachers in Orange County contend they were fired from a church-run day care center because they are gay.
Jaclyn Pfeiffer and Kelly Bardier say they were terminated from their jobs at Aloma Methodist Early Childhood Learning Center after school director Barbara Twachtman asked Pfeiffer if she was involved with Bardier. When she said she was, the women were dismissed from their jobs, Pfeiffer said.
“I said, ‘Can I get fired for this?’ She said, ‘Yes,’ and I was surprised,” Pfeiffer said Thursday.
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.
The clash between the church school and the gay couple is a small-scale version of the full-blown battles that engulfed Indiana and Arkansas over their controversial Religious Freedom Restoration laws that were viewed as anti-gay.
In Orlando, the attorney for Pfeiffer and Bardier says that their firing in March violates Orange County’s Human Rights Ordinance, which prohibits discrimination against gays.
“The Orange County ordinance says you cannot discriminate against an individual based on their sexual orientation,” said attorney Mary Meeks, who helped write the ordinance.
“You can’t fire them or refuse to hire them.”
There are some exemptions for religious organizations within the ordinance, Meeks said, but it is does not let them discriminate based on race, sex, religion or sexual orientation.
While the day care center has a Winter Park address at 3045 Aloma Ave., it is outside Winter Park city limits and could be subject to the Orange County ordinance.
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SOURCE: Orlando Sentinel