WOMEN
07/12/2019 15:05 EDT

Teacher Fired For Pro-Choice Facebook Posts Sues Catholic School, Citing Free Speech

Elizabeth Cox says Bishop England High School in Charleston, South Carolina, violated her First Amendment rights after she called out anti-abortion hypocrisy.

A teacher who says she was fired from a South Carolina Catholic school for sharing progressive Facebook posts about abortion has filed a lawsuit alleging the school violated her freedom of speech.

Elizabeth Cox says she was fired from Bishop England High School in Charleston, South Carolina, at the end of the last school year because of three Facebook posts, the Charlotte Observer reports. 

Two of the posts called out hypocrisy within the anti-abortion movement, and the third was about efforts to oppose Alabama’s strict new law banning abortions in almost all circumstances — including in cases of rape and incest.

The lawsuit, filed Monday, argues that the Catholic school and its principal “committed a criminal offense” by firing Cox because of her “political opinions, free speech and/or exercising the political rights and privileges guaranteed by the United States and/or the South Carolina Constitutions.” She is seeking an unspecified amount in damages, lost wages, and reinstatement. 

Cox was a teacher at the Roman Catholic school in the Diocese of Charleston for about 16 years, according to the lawsuit. She accepted the school’s offer to renew her employment for the 2019-2020 school year. But in early June, Cox received a letter from principal Patrick Finneran stating that she was being fired because she had supported abortion on a public Facebook account that identified her as a teacher at the school. 

“When we confronted you with the post, you admitted to it and, moreover, reacted in a manner leading us to conclude you would not do differently in the future,” Finneran wrote in the letter, which was included in the complaint.

“Parents send their students to our school expressly because they want a Catholic teaching and upbringing, and your public expression of disagreement with Catholic values undermines that,” he continued.

In a Facebook post from May, Cox shared a quote about abortion popularly misattributed to the feminist activist Gloria Steinem. The quote points out how differently conservatives treat young women who seek abortions and young men who want to buy guns. 

How about we treat every young man who wants to buy a gun like every woman who wants to get an abortion - mandatory 48-hour waiting period, parental permission, a note from his doctor proving he understands what he’s about to do, a video he has to watch about the effects of gun violence … Let’s close down all but one gun shop in every state and make him travel hundreds of miles, take time off works, and stay overnight in a strange town to get a gun. Make him walk through a gauntlet of people holding photos of loved ones who were shot to death, people who call him a murderer and big him not to buy a gun.

Cox commented that the quote was “brilliant,” according to a copy of her Facebook post included in the complaint.  

Cox’s second post also called out double standards within the anti-abortion movement. 

That post read: 

I’ll start believing you’re pro-life when you:

- ban guns

- have free healthcare for all

- stop separating families at the border

- offer cheap, prescribed birth control

- raise minimum wage

- improve the quality of education in schools

- act on the climate crisis

- improve mental health care

The third Facebook post mentioned in the lawsuit was a link to an article from The Washington Post with the headline, “Leslie Jones leads the charge against Alabama’s abortion ban in the SNL season finale.”

Bishop England High School’s teacher employment contract contains a line stating that all teachers and employees are considered active ministers who understand they must “at all times publicly speak and act in accordance with the mission and teachings of the Roman Catholic Church,” according to the complaint. 

Cox’s lawsuit names as defendants the high school, Finneran, and four unnamed individuals involved in the decision to terminate her employment. 

The Diocese of Charleston told HuffPost on Friday that it and the school are reviewing the complaint and will “file a response to the lawsuit with the court in due time.” 

Catholic leaders often speak against abortion, but studies show that Catholics in the pews are divided on the issue. About 22% of Catholics believe abortion should be illegal in all circumstances, according to a 2018 Gallup poll. About 53% said it should be legal in certain circumstances.

In practice, American Catholics procure abortions at about the same rate as American women overall, according to a report from the Guttmacher Institute 

Photo gallery Abortion, After the Decision See Gallery