A Catholic high school in Columbus Ohio reportedly fired a teacher because she publicly homosexual with a domestic partner. Now, it seems that a Catholic school should have a right to do that, right?
The problem is that the city of Columbus has an ordinance that makes it a misdemeanor to discriminate against an employee for their sexual orientation. The ordinance does not have a religious exemption and those who run afoul of the ordinance could face up to one year in prison or pay a $1,000 fine.
One of these things has to change. Either the Catholic school can continue to be Catholic or it must be forced to accept a publicly homosexual teacher or the ordinance must change to allow for religious exemptions. Now, lawyers have gotten involved and this could be ugly.
The firing of a gay physical-education teacher from a Columbus Catholic high school would be a violation of a city ordinance if a complaint were filed and investigators determined the dismissal was based on her sexual orientation.
Carla Hale of Powell, who worked at Bishop Watterson High School in Clintonville for 19 years, said she was fired in March after an anonymous parent complained that an obituary for Hale’s mother listed the name of Hale’s female domestic partner.
The dismissal caught attention after students and other supporters started an online petition on Monday to seek her reinstatement. The petition at change.org had gathered more than 9,000 signatures by early yesterday evening.
The Catholic Church considers gay relationships harmful and wrong, and a contract between the Roman Catholic Diocese of Columbus and the Central Ohio Association of Catholic Educators says teachers can be terminated for immorality or serious unethical conduct.
Hale’s attorney, Thomas Tootle, said her March 28 dismissal notice refers specifically to her relationship as the basis for her termination. The diocese and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops have declined to comment.
A Columbus city ordinance makes it a misdemeanor for an employer to discriminate against an employee based on sexual orientation. City law also states that an employer cannot have a policy that discriminates based on sexual orientation. Those who are found guilty could face up to 180 days in jail and a $1,000 fine.
Hale, a Methodist, has filed a grievance against the diocese based on terms of the contract. If that fails, Tootle said, they could turn to the Columbus ordinance.
Napoleon Bell, executive director of the city’s Community Relations Commission, said the city law has no exemption for religious organizations.
Tootle said courts have allowed religious exemptions to such laws if the employee is in a “ ministerial” position conveying the religious organization’s message.
The Supreme Court ruled last year in the Hosanna-Tabor case that a religious school has the right to decide who is and who isn’t in a “ministerial” position. The Court granted wide latitude to religious schools on this but I expect this will be the battleground in future fights.
One of the possibly horrific things happening here though is that administrators at this school could face prison time for being Catholic if it’s found that they violated the city ordinance. I don’t actually see how one argues that they didn’t break the ordinance but the question will turn on the constitutionality of the ordinance. This could be a big one folks. Keep your eyes open.
Here’s a videotaped interview with the teacher. She says that she was very private about her homosexuality but she admits to publishing the name of her “domestic partner” in the newspaper.: