When a woman accepts a job working for an orthodox Jewish congregation, she knows what values that synagogue espouses and stands for. Alana Schultz worked at Congregation Shearith Israel for 11 years - more than enough time to know full well that Orthodox Judaism frowns upon pregnancy before marriage. Nevertheless, she waited until she was 5 months pregnant and unwed before revealing her condition to her supervisor and several weeks later was fired despite having married in the interim. Typical of today’s default conception of women as victims, this woman has sued the congregation for discrimination, raising some interesting questions.
Should a religious institution be allowed to hold stricter standards than other commercial or government enterprises? Does a congregation that stands for a different moral code than the society at large have the right to expect adherence to that code from its employees? Was it ethical for a long-term employee to withhold the truth about her pregnancy for so many months? Was it ethical to arrange for a Shabbat dinner at the synagogue before her wedding, thereby giving the false impression that the synagogue condoned her behavior? When she chose to live by different rules than those governing this congregation, was it not her ethical obligation to be forthright to her employer about this change in her behavior from the time she was hired? Had she converted to another religion during this 11 year employment, should she still have been entitled to hold her job? And finally, since pregnancy is a condition that is difficult to conceal, is it not in a different category than failure to uphold other precepts of the religion in the privacy of one’s home or the intimacy of one’s heart. Had Alana Schultz chosen not to light Sabbath candles, it would have been a personal choice that others might not know of; by coming to work as a single pregnant woman, she openly flaunted her disregard for the rules governing her place of employment. Had she been hired to clean bathrooms instead of be a program director, her marital status might not have mattered to anyone. But her job entailed representing herself as part of the administration and a member of the flock.
This is the opposite story of the license clerk in Kentucky, jailed for refusing to obey the law of the land as interpreted by the Supreme Court. Kim Davis sought to impose her personal religious beliefs on a secular government bureau ordered to issue civil marriage licenses, having nothing to do with the church. Alana Schultz worked for an orthodox synagogue whose beliefs she knew to be at variance with secular customs. Her insistence that she be allowed to conspicuously flout those beliefs would be equivalent to working for a kosher butcher and objecting to the employer refusing to let you eat a ham sandwich in the store. Surely there is room in our society of desired diversity to allow private religious institutions to hire employees who live by the same faith. The formula should be as simple as this: If you choose to work for a religious institution in an important capacity, be sure that you’re willing to abide by its principles. When you no longer are, just say no and resign.
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