Fired for having premarital sex

Yes, you read that correctly. Jarretta Hamilton, a 39 year-old mother of six, was a fourth-grade teacher at Southland Christian School (K-12) in Saint Cloud, Florida.  She and her husband met with the school’s principal, Jon Ennis, during her pregnancy to discuss maternity leave.  She only requested six weeks off and the Medical and Family Leave Act states that pregnant women working for employers with fifty or more employees are required to hold the woman’s position for twelve weeks.  During this conversation, Ennis indicated that “it was difficult for the school to cover women on maternity leave.” Following this, Ennis started asking all sorts of question about Hamilton’s marriage and pregnancy.  He asked Hamilton if she had conceived her child before or after getting married.  When Ennis asked about conception, Hamilton honestly said that her daughter was conceived three weeks prior to her wedding.  The conversation ended and Hamilton was left without answers.  A week later, she received notice that she was being fired from her job for “fornication.”

The argument that the school is posing is that Hamilton signed a contract which stated that she would “maintain and communicate the values and purposes of the school.”  However, this is very unclear and does not specify what would be considered grounds for firing an employee.  Although premarital sex is a sin according to Christianity, I feel it is important to note the changing nature of premarital sex within our society.  Premarital sex is becoming much more common than it used to be.  In fact, “According to the Guttmacher Institute, for at least the last 40 years, 95 percent of Americans had sexual intercourse before marriage” (Haffner 1).  This data indicates that the overwhelming majority of people who choose to get married are sexually active before the actual wedding.  I doubt the school plans to inquire about the private, sexual lives of all of their employees and/or fire them for premarital sex.  Unless these teachers all belong to the five-percent minority, the school would be left without many teachers, if any at all.  Had Hamilton not asked for maternal leave, this situation would never have come up.  The school was clearly not interested in providing the six-week leave period to Hamilton and needed to justify firing her in another way.

The school continued to violate Hamilton’s fundamental human rights by making the details of her personal life available to the public.  First, Ennis held a staff meeting in which he announced that Hamilton had been fired and discussed why she was being fired.  Then, the parents of all the students in her classes were called and told the same information.  This completely violates privacy law and the school had no right to discuss Hamilton’s situation with any other individuals.

In comment boards on online articles, some people are offering support to the school and standing behind their decision to fire Hamilton.  The most common argument is that there are certain things one must do when working for a Christian school.  However, because the school has over fifty employees, the jobs serve a secular purpose and religion cannot be applied.  Also, we are guaranteed freedom of religion and one should never force another person to follow a set of religious principles unless they so choose.  Hamilton’s personal decisions about her sexuality could not be used against her in the classroom unless she was violating the law in some way (ex. child pornography).  Hamilton did consent to communicate the school’s values but this statement has been left up for interpretation.

Another thing to note is that this was not Hamilton’s first marriage.  She had five children with her first husband who died while they were married, so obviously she was not a virgin before getting married the second time.  According to the school, Hamilton was supposed to remain abstinent until she married her second husband, but I’ve always thought the big issue with premarital sex was virginity.  Seeing as though virginity was irrelevant in this situation, I would assume “premarital” sex would not be relevant either.

Employers should not be able to use their authority to control the bodies of their employees.  This is just another way that institutions exert dominance and power over employees.  I wonder how this situation would have differed if Hamilton were not in an interracial relationship or if she was a male asking for paternal leave.  What if the school was notified that another one of their employees had been having sexual relationships outside of marriage?

The school’s decision to fire Hamilton is very indicative of sexism in the workplace.  Even though maternal leave is guaranteed in Hamilton’s situation, the school was still able to use it’s institutional power to manipulate the situation and avoid complying with national law.  Hamilton has already fired a lawsuit against the school for discriminating against her and violating her right to privacy.  As this case progresses, it will be interesting to see what information is found about the school’s history with firing employees.  Is there a precedent for this decision?  If not, this would become precedent and many employees face the risk of losing their jobs.

Not only does this decision have a negative effect on the school’s employees, but it sends a terrible message to students.  As this great article on RH Reality Check discusses, students are being taught that their actions have serious consequences and they cannot be forgiven.  This completely contradicts the messages they are being taught in the classroom and in church.  Also, the article discusses how this will affect students who are already sexually active.  Knowing that sexual relationships outside of marriage are punishable, they will not feel comfortable going to the adults in their school for support or advice.  “Would you feel comfortable going to a teacher at Southland Christian if you were a victim of date rape?  What if you were facing an unplanned teen pregnancy?”

So was Jarretta Hamilton fired for having premarital sex?  Technically, yes.  But more like she was fired for asking for maternal leave…

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