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Broken fellowship

Religion | Former InterVarsity employee sues group over termination

Issue: "Probing international adoption," Nov. 16, 2013

A former employee of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship (IVCF) has sued the ministry for wrongful termination related to her failed marriage. Alyce Conlon alleges that IVCF fired her for getting divorced, even as the group overlooked divorces of two male employees.

Conlon started working for IVCF in 1986, and served in the ministry’s Grand Rapids, Mich., office from 2004 to 2011, until supervisors released her because of her marriage troubles. In a lawsuit filed in Grand Rapids U.S. District Court, Conlon’s lawyer contends that Conlon complied with the ministry’s requirements regarding separation and divorce, including seeking marriage counseling and keeping her directors advised about efforts to reconcile with her husband. Conlon also asserts that her IVCF supervisors contacted her husband about the marriage without informing her.

Conlon’s lawyer says that IVCF policy does not categorically forbid ministry staff from getting divorced. The lawsuit further contends that at least two male IVCF employees were retained in spite of their own divorces.

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IVCF has not commented on the specifics of the case, but in a statement cited the right of religious groups to make employment decisions based on moral principles. “InterVarsity Christian Fellowship’s credibility and witness depends on its ability to hire and retain personnel who share and abide by InterVarsity’s faith commitments,” the group said. “It is deeply regrettable that a former employee has chosen to challenge this key constitutional liberty.”

Fraud in France

Gero Breloer/Picture-Alliance/DPA/AP

The highest appeals court in France has upheld a fraud conviction against the Church of Scientology. The decision found that the group misled followers, and the court fined the organization 600,000 euros. The ministry had asked the appellate court to overturn the 2009 decision, saying that it violated Scientologists’ religious freedom. The Church of Scientology called the latest verdict “an affront to justice and religious liberty” and vowed to appeal to the European Court of Human Rights.

The case emerged from complaints against the church in the late 1990s. One woman alleged that Scientologists pressured her to purchase bogus products, such as an “electrometer” designed to test mental energy. Another woman said that her Scientologist employer demanded that she submit to the church’s testing and courses, and that when she declined, she lost her job. 

The Church of Scientology says that it has 12 million members worldwide, including high profile devotees such as Tom Cruise and John Travolta. France, however, considers the group a cult rather than a formal religion. The organization has regularly faced controversy, like the public repudiation of Scientology by actress Leah Remini (The King of Queens) this summer. —T.K.

Auckland liberty

NZ Anglican Church Clerical Directory

New Zealand’s Human Rights Tribunal has dismissed a complaint against the Anglican Diocese of Auckland by a gay man who sought ordination as a priest. Citing feelings of “humiliation and disappointment” because of the church’s policy against ordaining noncelibate homosexuals, Eugene Sisneros filed a protest against the church through the Gay and Lesbian Clergy Anti-Discrimination Society. Sisneros has studied theology and served as an assistant at an Auckland parish.  

New Zealand’s Anglican Church requires that gays and lesbians seeking ordination must be “chaste,” meaning single and celibate, but Sisneros was in an unmarried homosexual relationship. The court signaled that it was satisfied with this policy, because “being gay or lesbian is not in itself a bar to ordination.” The judgment noted that it was not the tribunal’s place “to second guess the Anglican Church as to what its doctrines and teachings should be.”

The Bishop of Auckland, Ross Bay, lauded the decision, saying that the tribunal had affirmed the autonomy of the church and helped to protect religious freedom. —T.K.

Thomas Kidd
Thomas Kidd

Thomas is a professor of history at Baylor University and a senior fellow at Baylor's Institute for Studies of Religion. His most recent book is Patrick Henry: First Among Patriots. Follow Thomas on Twitter @ThomasSKidd.

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