(AP) — A math teacher fired from a Fort Dodge Catholic school because she joined an atheist website and noted on Facebook that she didn’t believe in God said Friday she never imagined it would lead to her losing her job.
Abby Nurre, 26, was fired last December from St. Edmonds Catholic School. She was hired in August.
Nurre said she was called into the principal’s office just before winter break and asked about Atheist Nexus, a social network that bills itself as site for “nontheists.”
She said she registered on the site on her personal computer at home. She noted a New York Times’ article reporting the government had spent $2.3 million on prayer research since 2000 and added the link.
“I never thought something like that would jeopardize my job,” she said Friday from Phoenix, Ariz., where she was applying for teaching jobs.
Nurre was suspended by Monsignor Kevin McCoy and later fired by the school board for violating a policy that prohibits employees from advocating “principles contrary” to the teachings of the church.
St. Edmonds took the “appropriate action,” Kristie Arlt, spokeswoman for the Sioux City Diocese, said of the math teacher.
“The main thing is that she stated she didn’t believe in God,” Arlt said. “It’s pretty hard to put that same teacher in front of students in a Catholic school system.”
Nurre said her views constantly evolve and that she is constantly trying to expand her knowledge, whether on religion, astrology, fitness or politics.
“I just like learning about it. I don’t see why that should cause someone to get fired,” she said.
Nurre’s case was first reported by The Des Moines Register on Friday detailing her unemployment benefits case, which is public record.
The Register said that during her unemployment hearing, the school’s business manager Tim Hancock testified that Nurre had violated the principles of the Catholic church by joining Atheist Nexus.
“She should be denied unemployment benefits for being a member of an atheist Web site,” Hancock said.
A judge later ruled that Nurre was entitled to unemployment benefits because the school failed to prove misconduct.
“It still doesn’t take back anything that happened,” Nurre told The Associated Press. “I never got to say goodbye to the kids.”
After she was hired by St. Edmonds but before school began, Nurre said she filled out a list of 100 “Truths” questions on Facebook, using her personal computer. One questions asked “Do you believe in God.” She replied “no.”
Her Facebook page was accessible to designated friends but not students.
Nurre said she doesn’t know how school administrators learned about the atheist website or her Facebook page.
“I felt like my privacy was violated,” she said, adding that the school hadn’t mentioned the Facebook poll until the unemployment hearing.
Nurre said when she was hired at St. Edmonds, she was asked if she was a Catholic. She said she wasn’t. At school, she attended Mass and participated in prayer.
“I was fine with that. I’ve always done that,” she said. “I’m not an atheist. I’m not a Catholic. I’m not a Christian. I’m somewhere in between.”
She said she still wants to be a teacher but that she no longer wants to work in a Catholic school.