John M. Becker

Desperate to Discriminate, Catholic Schools Get Creative

Filed By John M. Becker | May 07, 2014 3:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: Catholic attacks on LGBT rights, Catholic Church, Catholic schools, Cincinnati, employment discrimination, labor unions, Ohio, pro-equality Catholics

RainbowCatholic.jpgEven as the general public -- and American Catholics in particular -- move rapidly and decisively in the direction of LGBT acceptance, Catholic schools in many parts the country are finding new and creative ways to discriminate against gay and lesbian teachers, particularly those who come out of the closet or marry the person they love.

In some Catholic dioceses, church administrators are so anxious to get around non-discrimination laws that they're even redefining Catholic schoolteachers as "ministers" rather than educators to take advantage of these laws' religious exemptions. The National Catholic Reporter has the story:

Legal experts and union organizers say it's a mix that could have sharp implications on teachers' ability to bring civil suits when they believe their employers treat them inappropriately -- and could even prevent them from forming unions to bargain for better wages or conditions.

One scholar who specializes in the intersection of law and religion says the changes are effectively an end-run around legislation protecting employees from discrimination in the workplace.

"It's about churches trying to do everything they can to avoid the anti-discrimination laws, because they don't want to be held to gender equality, sexual orientation equality, racial equality or equal pay," said Leslie Griffin, the William S. Boyd Professor of Law at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

"They want to do their best to get outside all of these laws," said Griffin.

As an example, Griffin cites the Cincinnati archdiocese, whose 2014-2015 teacher contracts impose draconian restrictions on their employees' free expression, even in their personal lives. The contracts also repeatedly refer to educators as "teacher-ministers."

The shift in language is reportedly in response to a 2012 Supreme Court ruling that established a "ministerial exemption" from federal labor and anti-discrimination laws for religious employers. Union leaders worry that diocesan leaders will soon exploit this loophole to prevent teachers in Catholic schools from forming labor unions.

"If that's what they're aiming to do," aid Rita Schwartz, president of the National Association of Catholic School Teachers, "I have serious issue with that."

Read NCR's full report here.

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