Controversy and questions are swirling around Kennedy Catholic High School in Burien, where supporters of two former teachers say the pair were fired for being gay.
Is such a move legal? And what rights do LGBT people have when they choose to work for a church in America?
“The law is explicitly clear in Washington state,” said Jason Rittereiser, an attorney with HKM employment attorneys. “The law protects LGBTQ folks from being discriminated against in their place of employment on the basis of their sexual orientation, but where the law starts to get a little blurry is on the issue of religious freedom.”
Rittereiser, who is not working for the former Kennedy teachers, said federal law allows for what's called a "ministerial exception." If someone teaches scripture or advises students on their faith, they would likely be exempt from anti-discrimination laws.
“This question is going to come down to whether or not these teachers are considered ministers under the law,” he said.
Rittereiser worked on a case in Oregon where a private Christian university fired a professor because she became pregnant while unmarried.
A court found she was not considered a minister and she was wrongly fired.
Rittereiser cautions anyone who accepts a job tied to a church to understand that there are instances when religious rights outweigh anti-discrimination laws.
“Religious institutions enjoy protections that your everyday employer doesn't, and those are protections that are borne in the right to religious freedom,” he said.