Monday, December 9, 2013

Believer Or Not

Via NBC in Philadelphia:

High school teacher Michael Griffin was fired from his position at Holy Ghost Preparatory School in Bensalem on Friday after applying for a marriage license in New Jersey with his partner, a move that the school says “contradicts the terms of his teaching contract.”

Griffin, an alumnus of the private all boys liberal arts Catholic high school, had taught Spanish and French at the school for the past 12 years. He first  posted about his termination on Facebook Friday morning.


He says that he was blindsided by the school’s reaction and that his relationship with his partner had never been a secret to faculity [sic] and administration.

“I’ve been with my partner for more than 12 years, the entire time I’ve been teaching at the school,” said Griffin. “He’s been to numerous school functions with me, he’s even been to McCloskey’s house.”

When contacted for comment, the school’s headmaster, Fr. James McCloskey, said in a statement that Griffin’s termination was due to his obtaining a license to marry his same-sex partner, a violation of the school’s teaching terms and the contract that Griffin was under.

“At a meeting in my office yesterday, teacher Michael Griffin made clear that he obtained a license to marry his same sex partner,” McCloskey wrote in a statement obtained by NBC10. “Unfortunately, this decision contradicts the terms of his teaching contract at our school, which requires all faculty and staff to follow the teachings of the Church as a condition of their employment. In discussion with Mr. Griffin, he acknowledged that he was aware of this provision, yet he said that he intended to go ahead with the ceremony. Regretfully, we informed Mr. Griffin that we have no choice but to terminate his contract effective immediately.”

He believes this section of the teachers code of conduct is the one that led to his firing:

“That, although, the School welcomes teachers from other denominations and recognizes their rights to religious freedom, as employees of a Catholic institution, all teachers are expected to uphold lifestyles compatible with the moral teaching of the Roman Catholic Church.”

My heart goes out to Mr. Griffin and his partner, but I also believe that he knew the terms of his contract.  It’s unfair and doesn’t sound like the teachings of Christ — after all, wasn’t he the one who said something about loving thy neighbor as thyself?  And it’s a bit of a gobsmack for the Catholic Church to get all het up about solemnizing same-sex marriage; apparently the only same-sex activity they approve of — at least tacitly — is the kind out back of the sacristy with teenage boys.

It also raises the question of whether or not an employer can impose his or her religious values on their employees regardless of whether or not they are fellow believers in their particular brand of faith.

This isn’t idle speculation.  The Supreme Court will hear arguments in March 2014 as to whether Hobby Lobby, a for-profit craft supply company, can opt out the Obamacare requirement of allowing its employees to obtain birth control, something that violates the sensibilities of the fundamentalist ownership of the company.  The law has skirted around the issue by granting exemptions to religious institutions, but does that go so far as to allow private employers to impose their views on the private lives of the employees?  Are the non-Jewish personnel at Hebrew National expected to keep kosher homes?

I also wonder if we’re looking at a Scopes-style situation where Mr. Griffin pushed the school to take action against him so he could sue for wrongful termination and thereby test the waters of challenging the faith-based exemption.  I hasten to add that I don’t think that’s what he set out to do when he decided to get a marriage license, but it could be an interesting test to see if even a church can require an employee — believer or not — to live up to their bigoted expectations.

HT to J.M.G.

4 barks and woofs on “Believer Or Not

  1. I’m slightly less unsympathetic to Holy Ghost Prep than I am to Hobby Lobby. The former is at least obviously sponsored by the RCs, has very close ties to the Church and fits far more closely to the community service model (school/hospital//service-org/etc) of the religious institution. I don’t agree with their decision, but that decision is closer to what a religious exception should be. Hobby Lobby is a business, full stop. It isn’t directly affiliated with a faith, it isn’t a charity, it does no “good works” in itself – it’s in the business of making its owners money. Unless the owners of Hobby Lobby are willing to state for the record that their faith is in Mammon, then it deserves no exemption.

    I do think it rich that Holy Ghost prep can have such a tizzy over two adults making a commitment in the midst of of the clergy-with-minor scandals.

    And if all the “religious liberty” shouters really cared about this, they’d support retail business closing for Thanksgiving, closing early Christmas Eve, and closing on Sunday (Christian), Saturday (Jewish), Friday (Muslim) etc. And they’d worry less about the marketing of Christmas and more about the deemphasizing of Twelfth Night and Epiphany. By ignoring these, they’re only highlighting the abject hypocrisy of their arguments.

  2. I wonder if the church has thought this stuff through. Requiring employees to agree that their private life will be consistent with church teaching, even if they are not Catholic, puts Catholic schools at a competitive disadvantage when they hire educators. The mostly non-unionized private and parochial school teachers tend to have worse pay and benefits than the unionized public school teachers. The notion that you might be fired if you do something completely legal and acceptable to society at large in your off-work time would be a pretty big strike against my ever accepting a job with a Catholic school.

Comments are closed.