Religious Doctrine vs. Individual Rights

A recent article by Jay Michaelson ( has highlighted just how uncertain and controversial the battle between religion and politics can be. In June of 2011, Emily Herx was fired from her position as a language arts teacher at St. Vincent junior high school in Indiana. The reasoning for her termination was allegedly due to her partaking in IVF treatments, as her and her husband were having trouble conceiving. This, according to Catholic dogma, was against Catholic religious beliefs and violated the “moral clause” due to the possibility of destruction of embryos over the course of the treatments.

Herx decided to sue the Diocese of Fort Wayne, but in a very specific way. Her lawyers, being well informed on the laws in Indiana, knew they could not directly attack the Catholic “moral clause”, and win. Instead, they attacked from the view that this specific aspect of the Catholic doctrine was sexist against and discriminated against women. Religious doctrine is inarguably protected by the first amendment, but what about laws concerning the protection of individuals from discrimination? According to Herx, she was not even aware that IVF treatments were against the Catholic Doctrines and did not realize she was antagonizing the “moral clause”.

Where is the line drawn? When does religious doctrine overpower individual rights against discrimination and vice-versa? This can be linked back to the topics of ideology and religious worldviews. A worldview can be defined as a set of fundamental beliefs, values, ect. determining or constituting a comprehensive outlook on the world. In this instance, you have the Catholic beliefs and values clashing with the worldview and ideologies concerning individual freedoms. It can also be seen as an example of Christian Nationalism in the sense that we now need to question, how much influence and power do these religious beliefs have over the entire nation and the determination of the nation’s values and beliefs? Can the ideas of Christian Nationalism dominate the seemingly simple aspects of individual human rights? In my opinion, it should be an individual’s own decision as to whether or not they want to follow the doctrines of a specific religion. Is it not in the bible “anyone who has no sin in their life should step forward and throw the first stone”? This passage clearly relates to the Catholic belief that every individual commits sin, it is an inevitable aspect of human existence according to the bible. So who gets to decide how big of a sin against Catholic teaching gets you fired? Gets you kicked off a sports team? Gets you thrown out of school? Is it not also part of Catholic teaching that God is the only judge? In my opinion, the Diocese is exhibiting extremely hypocritical influence and power, power that I do not believe is justified.

By: Opinionate349


4 thoughts on “Religious Doctrine vs. Individual Rights

  1. There is a tension in this article clearly between a religious institution practicing their beliefs, whilst clashing with individual autonomy. An individual is punished in the public sector by losing her job, for her private life actions which some may argue has nothing to do with the school.
    I do see a problem from both sides here, where the above post clearly states that religion should not necessarily interfere with autonomy. However, the religious institution demands its public teachings to be practiced privately, and therefore thinks itself justified for monitoring what their members practice. In this case, monitoring how individuals are conceiving, and whether it is in accordance with the religious beliefs.
    On the one hand, no one is forcing Mrs. Herx to be a part of the religious institution, which has rules against things like IVF treatments in their moral clauses. Therefore I believe that the religious institution has the right to reject individuals based on their private sectors of life, as their public teachings should be taken and practiced at home as they are preached publically. It is the school’s rules that are being infringed upon by Mrs. Herx, and I do believe because Mrs. Herx is the one who is seeking a job at this institution, that she should subject herself to the schools rules. To put it simply, from the school’s perspective, if you do not want to follow our religious ideals, then do not work here.
    However, I believe that the school infringed upon her worldview incorrectly, as stated, she did not know there was a moral clause against the action. Essentially, she is being punished for being ignorant with no second chance, or ability to change her ways. She is not given the option, from what the article states, to stop the IVF treatments before being fired. As the author of this blog states, it is a realization and reality that everyone sins. However in the Catholic faith, individuals are able to repent their sins and ask for forgiveness. This is where I believe the school erred in its judgment. While rules and expectations are created within the institution for its faculty to follow, it is in fact a Catholic institution. If Mrs. Herx truly continued to work there because of her faith-based occupation, then the school should have let her have the opportunity to repent before firing her. Another aspect that I feel is inappropriate for firing her, is the fact that she was trying to procreate. The Catholic Church emphasizes that procreation is expected of every family, and that protection is frowned upon. Mrs. Herx was following the overall comprehensive doctrine of the Roman Catholic faith by trying to procreate, and was fired for it.
    Overall, I feel the school has the right and ability to protect its values. However, in this case, Mrs. Herx was fired unjustly as she was not given the chance to ‘fix’ her ways of trying to procreate in the expectations of the school. Further, she was fired for trying to maintain and uphold the religious doctrine of procreation and was fired for it. Therefore, I believe that her autonomy was unjustly infringed upon, as it could be argued she was just trying to maintain her ideology towards her faith.



  2. In response to individual doctrine vs religious rights, I do agree that it may be hard to draw the line between granting individual freedoms with individual rights. In most western countries the law is that most actions are allowed as long as they do not interfere with the rights of another individual. In the case of the Catholic Church not allowing certain actions to take place because of their worldview, it is justified if it is their organization. I believe this is justified because it doesn’t really restrict an individual’s freedoms as they are able to join an organization which has beliefs which resembled the individual more closely. On the contrary, if some religious rights affect people no matter what action they take, that is not justified. An example of this would be having kosher law in a country like Canada as everyone would be forced to do things the kosher way even if they do not believe in it. There is no problem with having kosher factories in a country to facilitate certain groups of people, but is not ok to force everyone to do something because one group says it is the right way. Thus, in the case of the firing of the teacher because of actions she had taken that were against the Catholic Church I believe it was justified. This is the case because the school were it happened was not a public school it was a catholic school. Moreover, it is justified because the teacher willingly took a job at a Catholic school, thus she should follow it rules and policies.

  3. I am absolutely baffled at the fact that Herx was fired because she was partaking IVF treatments.
    It is indeed a very difficult question, as you have questioned where and when does the religious doctrine “over power individual rights against discrimination”. There are cases however, where one may have one religious belief but their personal values do not inhibit them from doing it. For instances, a person may be a “die-hard” Catholic, but they also believe in the usage of birth control – religion is not completely and homogenously over-powering the autonomy of a person. There are cases where religions do control a person’s life, but I shall touch on that below.

    You also ask about how much influence and power religious beliefs have to influence a nation, I feel that religious dogmas may have some effects on national “values and beliefs”. In the West, we have the choice to disengage from a particular religion if it is discriminating our rights. Although I agree with you that individuals should have the right to decide whether or not we wish to follow that religious, there are countries where religion is everything.

    For those living in countries where religious doctrines are a part of their nationality, it is difficult to exercise their individual rights and autonomy. Most of us know a few countries that are very political, such as: the Middle East.

    We could also flip this argument around and direct it at the tensions between the Western ideology and one’s individual worldview shaped by culture and religion. Recalling when Quebec had barred the veiling of Muslim women in government locations, schools, hospitals and daycares. Where does the line cross when one person’s “freedom” is exercising their rights to take away other’s freedom? In other words, if a Canadian person saw a woman that is veiled and felt uncomfortable about it (wanting it banned as well); how does this not infringe Muslim women’s right to be veiled?

    In my opinion, I believe worldviews are very complex and are constantly clashing. Each nation has different worldviews. In this situation of Christian Nationalism: yes it is not fair for someone to be kicked out of school for personal choices. But it is also not fair to be barred from governmental institutions by one’s personal and religious choices.


  4. I completely agree with you in the belief that the Diocese of Fort Wayne was not justified in exhibiting that sort of power. I especially like your point about every individuals’ ability and possibly inevitability to commit sin. The reason sin is such a large subject in Catholic and other religious teachings is because of this understanding that at one point or another, everyone sins. This is exactly why Catholics place such a great emphasis on confession and the importance to repent. A major part of Catholic teaching is the power of forgiveness and the ability to forgive even the worst sins. If the Diocese wanted to truly practice what they preach, a much more sensible solution would have been to ask Emily Herx and her husband to go to confession and repent. Instead the Diocese decided to venture on the borders of hypocrisy by taking the sternest action they could and immediately terminating her employment.
    Forget the hypocrisy behind the Diocese’s decision, and wonder if they even have the authority to make such a decision. Where do we draw the line between employee conduct and right to privacy? An employers’ authority should not extend beyond anything that would affect that employee’s ability to work properly and efficiently, or that would publicly affect the employer’s image. Granted, a violation of the “moral clause” could potentially hurt the Diocese’s image, however, there is a big difference between a private action and a public stand. The couple’s partaking of IVF treatments is an extremely intimate and private subject. It is a subject that I believe does not belong in the workplace and should not affect a person’s right of employment.

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