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Sorry, Catholic schools: Discriminating against gay people in the name of "religious freedom" just got harder

As this Massachusetts lawyer says, "You can’t have equality if you can get married on Saturday and fired on Monday"


Mary Elizabeth Williams
December 19, 2015 1:41AM (UTC)

Did you just feel an icy chill, homophobes who think hiding behind your religion will protect your right to be discriminatory and hateful? It's called the wind of change, and it's going to get a lot stronger. A Massachusetts judge this week has ruled that a Milton all-girl Catholic prep school broke the law when it withdrew a job offer to a gay man. I suspect you'll be seeing a lot more of that from here on in, America. You might want to get used to it.

Matthew Barrett says that in 2013 he accepted the position of food services director of the Fontbonne Academy — a school that prides itself on "strong gospel values" including an "ongoing commitment to love God and neighbor without distinction," and instruction in "human concerns such as discrimination, oppression, and poverty." Okay, if you say so!  All was well and good until Barrett put his husband's name on his emergency contact form. Then things got awkward. He says that two days later the job offer was rescinded, and that the head of the school "said the Catholic religion doesn’t recognize same-sex marriage, and that was her excuse." She reportedly told him, "We cannot hire you."

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Similar stories have over the past few years become increasingly common, as gay and lesbian workers have found themselves fired or had job offers withdrawn, on the flimsiest of religious grounds. Two years ago, Michael Griffin, a French and Spanish teacher at Holy Ghost Preparatory School in Bensalem, Pennsylvania, lost his job of twelve years when he told school officials he and his partner were applying for a marriage license — even though Griffin says the administration had long known he was gay. The same year, a Minnesota high school teacher lost her job after telling her coworkers she was in a relationship with a woman — just months after the school's president was forced to resign for acknowledging his relationship of 20 years. In schools across the country, gay people have been fired after making wedding announcements or acknowledging their partners in obituaries. But these punitive, humiliating measures have been met with strong criticism — last year, Omaha students drew over 100,000 signatures for a change.org petition after a beloved speech teacher was fired from Skutt Catholic after revealing his engagement to another man.

As Mic reported back in June, there are still 28 states in the U.S. that do not offer job protection for LGBT men and women. But guess what — Massachusetts isn't one of them. And in his suit, Bennett claimed the school had discriminated against him based on his sexual orientation and gender. In his ruling this week, Superior Court Judge Douglas Wilkins noted, "As an educational institution, Fontbonne retains control over its mission and message. It is not forced to allow Barrett to dilute that message, where he will not be a teacher, minister or spokesman for Fontbonne and has not engaged in public advocacy of same-sex marriage." And in applauding the decision, Bennett Klein of Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, who represented Barrett in the case, called it "an important decision for equality and dignity across Massachusetts and across the country." But the Catholic Action League of Massachusetts unsurprisingly feels differently, calling it "a frontal assault on religious freedom, an appalling subordination of the First Amendment to the Massachusetts gay rights law, and a victory by homosexual activists in their campaign to coerce Christians into compliance with same-sex marriage."

Squicked out as certain segments of the population continue to be at the reality that not everyone in the world is hetero, it is becoming increasingly difficult to argue with a straight face that a person's private life is somehow going to conflict with the moral obligations of, say, being a food services director, or that working with people means they're going "coerce" you into "compliance" with their legally recognized unions. And if you claim you're teaching kids to fight against discrimination while actually practicing it, I'm sure would Jesus would have quite the laugh over that one. As Bennett Klein explains, "Marriage equality has been the law of Massachusetts for over a decade and it is now the law of the land. But you can’t have equality if you can get married on Saturday and fired on Monday."

How These 12 Year Olds Are Fighting For Gay Rights At Their Catholic School


Mary Elizabeth Williams

Mary Elizabeth Williams is a staff writer for Salon and the author of "A Series of Catastrophes & Miracles."

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Aol_on Catholic Schools Discrimination Education Lgbt Marriage Equality

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