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Christian school sues ex-teachers who refused to give proof of faith

A Christian school in Thousand Oaks, Calif., is suing two former teachers who threatened a lawsuit over the school's requirement to provide proof of faith.

When the Godspeak Church bought Little Oaks Elementary in 2009, it started requiring employees to fill out questionnaires that asked whether they attended church, which church they attended and what the pastor had to say about their beliefs.

"We do believe their personal rights were violated," said the teachers' attorney, Dawn Coulson.

Coulson said Lynda Serrano and Mary Ellen Guevara received their questionnaires last summer. After they refused to fill out the form, they were not rehired. The teachers then filed paperwork saying they intended to sue.

The school's attorney, Rick Kahdeman, said the church exercised its constitutional right to freedom of religion. He said that trumps any claim the teachers may have under state equal employment laws.

"The teachers chose not to [fill out the paperwork], and they knew it was a condition of employment," Kahdeman said.

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Coulson contends that California's employment laws protect her clients, in part, because the school northwest of Los Angeles was purchased by a church as a for-profit entity, not a nonprofit. She said employers can't require such questionnaires as a basis for employment, even if they are churches.

"That would be like the church buying shares in IBM, and IBM saying, 'We can now discriminate, based on religion,'" Coulson said.

"That issue is totally irrelevant because the rights of the school come from the First Amendment to the Constitution," Kahdeman countered.

Kahdeman is suing the two teachers and their attorneys in federal court.