Alex Blaze

Homophobic schools don't have to exist

Filed By Alex Blaze | October 29, 2010 12:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living, Politics

This is as close to a policy statement as there's been in Europe on the subject of discrimination against gay teachers. Now we'll have to wait for a test case:

gay_teacher.jpgThe European Commission has said that Roman Catholic schools in Poland or elsewhere in the EU cannot refuse to employ gay teachers.

EU justice commissioner Viviane Reding said on Wednesday (26 October) in a written statement that EU law on non-discrimination in the workplace allows religious outfits "to take a person's religion or belief into account, where necessary, when recruiting personnel and to require their personnel to show loyalty to that ethos."

But she added: "While it is difficult to make a statement about a hypothetical case, the commission fails to see how a teacher's sexual orientation could reasonably constitute a genuine and determining occupational requirement."

It's especially maddening that European Catholic schools would want to discriminate against gay teachers and justify it with church doctrine, even though no ideological or theological loyalty is required by teachers or students in many Catholic schools. I know a Jewish woman who teaches at a Catholic high school in Paris (I knew several Protestant and nonreligious teachers at a Catholic school in Indianapolis, for that matter), and if they required all students to actually be practicing Catholics they'd go out of business, especially in Western Europe.

Catholic schools are pretty much the only form of private K-12 education, at least in France, and their reputation is for being elite and bourgeois, not fundamentalist interpreters of doctrine. So defenses like this make little sense:

Her [referring to a Polish education minister who made comments about firing gay teachers] communiqué said she agrees with the commissioner that no one can be fired on the basis of their sexuality alone.

It added, however: "Sexual orientation is one thing, while it is another thing altogether to publicly declare disloyalty to the ethics of a given church, religious organisation or institution where ethics or beliefs play an important role. If somebody does not meet these ethical requirements, but at the same time wants to be employed in institutions where compliance with these requirements is essential and where they are indispensable for the job, they must take into account that the principle of equal treatment does not have to be applied in their case."

Yes, because it's so consistent to just start applying ethics test right now, only to gay teachers.

Perhaps things are different in Poland when it comes to Catholic education, which points to the inherent tension in trying to make rules for countries with completely different people, cultures, religions, and histories. But her statements ring about as true to me as American homophobes' statements about "upholding tradition" (when has America ever cared about tradition? We're one of the countries least beholden to tradition in the world).

And, of course, being gay isn't an ethical choice, and every job requires "ethics or beliefs to play an important role," or at least should. That doesn't mean we gut antidiscrimination legislation, especially when there are kids who need LGBT role models and had the bad luck of being born to parents who took them out of public schools and sent them to Catholic school.

Frankly, no one's forcing the Catholic Church to run schools in Europe. If they don't feel like following civil law then they can stick to strictly religious business, for which they have an exemption to EU antidiscrimination rules. The rules don't need to be expanded to help build a little anti-gay bubble for people to live their lives in.

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It's kinda like DADT repeal to me. I don't see why gay people would want to teach in a Catholic school to start with, but they should be able to if they're the most qualified person.

At least a gay teacher would do positive work from the inside in a Catholic school, like helping queer teens come to terms with who they are and reducing homophobia in the environment. In the military... well, they'll just say they were following orders afterwards.

Here is where I am going to weigh in in *support* (gasp!) of the Roman Catholic Church, in connection with a right to discriminate, not against *all* gays, and not *only* against gays. But if they are consistent, there is room for justifying employment discrimination in Catholic Schools on doctrinal issues.

If the Church in Poland as employer is routinely discharging or refusing to hire as teachers Catholics who are divorced and remarried without the benefot fo an annulment, or Catholic gays who get married (say in Spain, or the Netherlands), or Catholic priests with a pedophilia issue, or anyone else whose open and notorious behavior flouts Catholic teaching, that could be justifiable. Similarly, if a teacher works for Polish Planned Parenthood as a side job, at least in a job that involves visibility (say, as an executive director or spokesperson), that could be allowed to put the job in jeopardy. They should be able to limit employment to practicing Catholics in good standing - but if they don't, then they need to apply a consistent standard across the board. Discharging gays, even who are merely sexually active, unless they're doing the same to heterosexuals who aren't married to each other, shouldn't be enough for a "scandal in the Church."

But they should have to be consistent. They should not be able to single out married gays, while keeping divorced and remarried (withoput annulment) Catholics.

Gay, and even transgender, people are allowed to be Catholic - this is where the conflicting Catechism provisions come into play - the fine line between "respect" and "no unjust discrimination" on the one hand, and "not condoning" on the other, is one that has often led Church leaders into somewhat schizophrenic-seeming reactions.

One example, near where I live, involved a local Catholic medical school, which initially rejected a gay student group - but when the name was changed to take the word "gay" out, it became acceptable - the hierarchy did not want to appear to be condoning "homosexual behavior" but recognized the respect and no unjust discrimination aspect enough to realize that allowing a group was permitted under the catechism.