03 Feb When the Courts don’t Defend Churches, the Law, and Employment Rights
As a member of a Church that hires many people to do a multitude of things from computer programming to custodial to cook and expects everyone to adhere to the Church’s standards of conduct in public and in private, I worry when I read that a judge has decided that this is not an okay practice.
Recently a state judge in Massachusetts ruled that a Catholic school discriminated against a gay man by retracting a job offer upon learning that he was married to another man.
Fontbonne Academy offered a position to Matthew Barrett as a food services director in 2013. The private school informed Barrett that all employees were assumed to exemplify Catholic teachings and values, and he agreed to those terms.
Barrett listed his husband on the employment form as his emergency contact, prompting the school to withdraw the job offer.
The Catholic Church has always defined marriage to be between one man and one woman and has always preached that sexual relationships are only to be had in a marriage between a man and a woman. It would not be unreasonable to expect that “exemplifying Catholic teachings” includes either living a celibate life or living in complete fidelity within a marriage.
There are a couple of things that make this ruling ominous and outside established laws.
First, the judge accused Fontbonne Academy of withdrawing the job offer because of Barrett’s sexual orientation and therefore breaking the law. That is simply not true. The school holds the same standards for every employee no matter their sexual orientation. Barrett did not meet these standard. Throughout the history of the United States, the law has supported private entities who had a specific set of standards for employees to meet. Roger Severino, of the Heritage Foundation said:
“Personnel is policy, and common sense tells us that an all-girls Catholic school should not be forced by the government to hire people who publicly reject central church teachings about marriage. The Supreme Court has repeatedly affirmed the right of private organizations, especially religious ones, to choose the people who carry their messages, but this decision departs from settled law.”
Second, it is an attack on religious freedom. It is the government’s attempt to force religions to abandon their schools, hospitals, orphanages, and other programs or deny their beliefs about marriage.
Since the Supreme Court’s Obergefell ruling, one cannot be sure that the Court would continue to uphold the right of churches to hire people who willingly uphold the standards of the church. This time, I hope the case stays in Massachusetts. Otherwise this could signal the end of churches hiring only those people who are willing to live according to the churches’ standards.