Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary filed a motion April 9 asking a judge to dismiss a lawsuit filed a month earlier claiming gender discrimination.
Sheri Klouda, now a professor at Taylor University in Upland, Ind., sued in U.S. District Court in Fort Worth, Texas, March 8. Claiming she was let go from her position as a professor of Old Testament languages because she is a woman, Klouda accused the seminary and its president, Paige Patterson, of breach of contract, fraud and defamation.
Seminary lawyers argued the seminary’s relationship with its professor is the same as a church’s relationship with its minister. Any decision the seminary makes regarding employment of a professor, the motion said, is an ecclesiastical decision protected by the free exercise of religion under the First Amendment.
Lawyers argued further that even if the court finds it has jurisidiction over Klouda’s claims, she has not proven the seminary breached her contract. The seminary denied committing fraud and said her claims of defamation cannot be proven true or false.
The seminary said Klouda’s suit “cannot proceed without requiring this Court to review evidence and engage in inquires which are forbidden under the First Amendment.” Additionally, the motion said, “all of Plaintiff’s alleged causes of action fail to state a claim for which relief can be granted.”
Klouda taught Hebrew at the seminary for four years before her contract was terminated last year. She was one of seven faculty members elected by seminary trustees in April 2002, and the first class of new professors to ceremonially sign the Baptist Faith & Message 2000.
Klouda indicated she agrees with the Baptist Faith & Message statement that says, “While both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture.” But she said she does not believe there is consensus the prohibition applies to teaching in an academic institution.
Klouda says claims against her that she is unfit to teach are false. She said she made financial commitments like buying a house based on assurances that her job was safe, and she suffered financial hardship after her dismissal.
According to the Association of Theological Schools the numbers of female faculty at seminaries and divinity schools grew from 650 in 2001 to 754 in 2005, an increase of 16 percent. For each female professor, there are about 4.5 males.
A Texas pastor who supports Klouda wrote a letter of complaint to the ATS in January, claiming Klouda’s dismissal constituted a “serious breach” of accreditation guidelines.
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.