Yesterday in the quiet of our home, Jim and I opened a letter from the California Supreme Court which, to my surprise, heralded the news: Simpson’s petition for review was denied. The CA Supreme Court said “no” to Simpson’s attempt to use Religious Defenses to hide the breaches of my Simpson employment contracts.
Wow, it is finished. At least this part of the lawsuit is now over.
To explain: After the Appellate Court in Sacramento told Simpson University in September 2018 that it must comply with the terms of the employment contract that it drafted, Simpson’s secular lawyer asked a higher court– the California Supreme Court — to adjudicate the case. But the highest court in our state said, “No.”
What that means now is that religious corporations such as Simpson University are subject to contract law in California. Of course, Christian organizations historically always been bound to contract law in America. Never have the courts told religious entities that it is okay for them to break their own contracts.
Why then would Simpson try to become an exception? Because there is an enormous temptation for religious organizations to use their religious freedom as covering for which to hide their sins.
In my story, Simpson University’s lawyer attempted to hide the breaches to my contracts behind a vain appeal to Religious Defenses. For six years Simpson avoided accountability by producing lots of paperwork and presenting it to the court in effort to make the argument that Simpson is a sovereign entity that cannot be held accountable by the courts.
Question: Can Simpson University cut employment contracts to unsuspecting people like me, then breach the terms of the contract without having to pay any consequences for doing wrong?
Answer: The appellate court said “no.” The Appellate Court said Simpson “circumscribed its own conduct” when it entered into the contract. The Appellate Court said it does not violate Simpson’ religious freedom for Simpson to be held to fulfill the terms of the contract that Simpson wrote for its own benefit.
That part of the verdict is very good news for all want integrity in the church.
But alas, the Appellate Court’s verdict ended with mixed results:
1. The Court did not hold Simpson accountable for my tort claims. Because the defamation promulgated by Simpson University officials pertained to my employment at a religious corporation, the court let Simpson off the hook. What this means is that religious employers in the State of California can falsely accuse a religious employee and probably get away with it if they appeal to Religious Defenses. You see, courts presume “good faith” from religious corporations no matter what.
2. But as I just said, the Appellate Courts confirmed that employment contracts cut in religious corporations still count as contracts that are subject to contract law in California.
In my case, the moment of truth came when three appellate justices asked Simpson’s secular lawyer point-blank if there was “anything religious” about my case. Twice he gave a wordy non-answer, but when the justices pressed him firmly a third time, God gave him the grace to say, “No.”
The Presence of God was palpable in the appellate courtroom that day in Sacramento. Eleven of my friends (including my husband Jim) were in the room praying and supporting me as the hearing unfolded. Thus I believe the Lord providentially hemmed in Simpson’s lawyer and freed him to speak truth. To witness his admission was stunning because for six consecutive years, Simpson’s lawyer had been saying over and over and over that everything about my case was “religious.”
“Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.”
I will never forget that turning point. It was September 18, 2018. I came to court without a lawyer, and Simpson’s lawyer came without a client. Like the Willow Creek board who leaned entirely on its lawyer during the Bill Hybels’ scandal, the Simpson board leaned entirely upon its lawyer too.
3. God has been using this whole ordeal to buffet and shape my character. Providence has invited me into a New Testament-like story with Simpson’s secular lawyer coming at me hard with accusation after accusation while refusing to admit that Simpson University breached my contract. Episode by episode in this lawsuit, I get to practice trusting God.
4. As for forgiveness, I am learning what forgiveness really is. To forgive means “to let go” of hard feelings / not be bitter / do not try to avenge. It means wish your enemies well — indeed, love them — and earnestly pray for them with goodwill. For years I have prayed by name with sincerity and heartfelt detail for every perpetrator in this saga. Christ commands us to forgive. But Jesus does not command us to enable. Forgiveness is not enablement. Whereas enablement fuels sin and allows it to continue, forgiveness calls sin “sin” and seeks restoration for the sinner. My way of seeking restoration for the Simpson University Board is by asking the God-given, Romans 13 court to hold it accountable.
5. I myself cannot stop the Simpson Board from breaching employees’ contracts and violating its own policies and failing to hold the University in trust. But the Romans 13 government can stop them all. As a citizen of California, I, like Paul, can appeal to Caesar. (See Acts 25:9-12.)
God knows that my prayer is for Simpson University to be reborn. I would like to see a new model of Christian higher education. My hope against hope is for Simpson to have a Saul-Paul conversion.
With God, all things are possible.
In closing, I will say that throughout this whole ordeal, I have visited and revisited Revelation 2, a stern, soul-saving warning that helps me to remember my First Love.
“To the angel of the church in Ephesus write:
The One who holds the seven stars in His right hand, the One who walks among the seven golden lampstands, says this:
‘I know your deeds and your toil and perseverance, and that you cannot tolerate evil men, and you put to the test those who call themselves apostles, and they are not, and you found them to be false; and you have perseverance and have endured for My name’s sake, and have not grown weary.
But I have this against you, that you have left your First Love. Therefore remember from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first; or else I am coming to you and will remove your lampstand out of its place—unless you repent.
Yet this you do have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.
He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will grant to eat of the tree of life which is in the Paradise of God.’