LOS ANGELES (May. 30)
A church-run nursery school has told its Jewish teachers they must henceforth profess faith in Jesus or lose their jobs. In response, the school’s director and all its teachers have handed in their resignations.
The confrontation was triggered by an announcement by the First Presbyterian Church of Sherman Oaks, a comfortable suburb of Los Angeles, that it will add Christian instruction to its curriculum beginning in September.
“Those who teach Christian teaching should subscribe to these teachings themselves,” the Revs. John and Pamela Powell of the church declared in a prepared statement. “Christian teaching is not simply an academic matter but a matter of an entire world view.”
When the new policy was announced at a faculty meeting, all 12 attending teachers, five of them Jewish, resigned, as did the school’s director, Wendy Cummings. A 13th teacher was on vacation, but relatives say she, too, plans to quit.
“Our school has been for everyone,” Cummings said. “How can I explain that their teacher had to leave because she was Jewish?”
“I take this as a personal assault,” said Marilyn Freitag, a Jewish teacher who has been with the school for 14 years. “They’re saying they don’t want Jewish influence….I think God would be ashamed of these people.”
Of the school’s 85 pupils, ages 2 to 4, about half are Jewish. Jewish parents have been sending their children there because of a dearth of Jewish preschools in the area and because of the school’s good reputation and its policy, until now, of encouraging faith in God without formal Christian teaching.
Legally, the church school’s new policy seems to be on solid ground, according to attorneys for the American Civil Liberties Union and the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith.
Although federal law bans discrimination on the basis of religion, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that a church may hire and fire workers for religious reasons under the Constitution’s First Amendment clause guaranteeing freedom of religion.