Journal of Language and Discrimination, Vol 2, No 2 (2018)

Disability, the ‘good family’ and discrimination in the dismissal of a Presbyterian seminary professor

Valerie Hobbs
Issued Date: 4 Dec 2018


Religious institutions in the USA, under the First Amendment, exhibit great strength in employment termination, given freedom by the Supreme Court to conduct their labour and employment practices with limited scrutiny. This article examines ways in which a Presbyterian seminary board report, justifying its decision not to renew a professor's contract, demonstrates discrimination in its use of the 'good family' ideal prominent within conservative Christianity. Focusing on intertextuality and representation of the professor's wife, a disabled woman, analysis presents evidence of an overall strategy of exclusion. The report consistently demonstrates support for negative witness statements about the professor and his wife while undermining the professor's accounts. The report's characterization of the professor's wife subsumes her identity under her husband's and assumes moral reasons for her disability and chronic illness, consistent with a nouthetic counselling ethos. Findings support the discriminatory potential of the 'good family' ideal, underscoring employees' unique vulnerability within religious higher education institutions.

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DOI: 10.1558/jld.35571


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