Catholic School Teacher in Italy Loses Job Because of Lesbian Rumors

July 23, 2014

The disturbing trend of firing Catholic school teachers because of LGBT issues has moved overseas, and the reason for firing has become even weaker than usual, compared to the cases here in the United States.

Students at the Institute of the Sacred Heart, Trent, Italy.

In Italy, a state-funded school, L’Istituto Sacro Cuore (The Sacred Heart Institute) in the northern city of Trent, did not renew its contract with a teacher because there were rumors that she was a lesbian, which she refused to either confirm or deny.

PinkNews.com reported that the teacher, who is known only by the pseudonym “Silvia” offered a reaction to the school’s decision:

“ ‘What happened to me is medieval.

“ ‘Maybe I’m a lesbian, maybe I’m not. But asking me about my sexual orientation as a condition for renewing my contract is unacceptable.’

“She also said that Sister Eugenia Libratore, headmistress and Mother Superior, ‘told me she was willing to turn a blind eye if I was willing to “solve the problem.” Homosexuality is a problem?’

” ‘Silvia’ said she had worked at the school for five years and lives with her partner in Trento.”

According to Gazzetta del Sudthe teacher has not provided information if her partner is male or female:

“Silvia told La Repubblica (an Italian newspaper) adding that she is aged between 30 and 40, has been teaching an ‘important and mandatory subject’ at Sacro Cuore for five years, and lives in Trento with someone she loves.”

Gay Star News reported Sister Libratore’s side of the story:

“Eugenia Libratore, the headmistress of Sacro Cuore, reportedly said she decided not to renew the ‘adequate and professional’ teacher’s contract because she ‘has the school’s environment to protect’ and ‘moral ethics’ to preserve. . . .

“Libratore told Corriere (an Italian newspaper) she had heard about the teacher’s sexuality through rumors in the staff room.

” ‘I told her I had heard these rumours and hoped they were false rumors, because I have the school environment to protect,’ she said.

” ‘When choosing teachers for a Catholic school, I also do assessments from the point of view of moral ethics…

” ‘The Catholic school has its own characteristics and set of educational guidelines that must be defended at all costs.’ “

Italy’s Education Minister Stefania Giannini

Because employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation has been illegal in Italy since 2003,  and because the school accepts government funding, Italy’s Education Minister, Stefania Giannini, has become involved in the case, after 20 Italian senators requested intervention.  In La Repubblicathe Minister stated:

“Whenever we are faced with a case related to sexual discrimination, we will act with due severity.”

As regular readers of Bondings 2.0  will recognize, most of the firings that have happened in the United States over the last few years have been due to a gay or lesbian teacher becoming legally married.  Only one action from the list of all reported ones since 2008 was due to perceived sexual orientation, that being Tim Nelson in 2013.

This Italian case highlights an attitude on the part of the school’s headmistress that may be important to understanding what motivates administrator’s to react so harshly in such cases. The Italian administrator said:

“The Catholic school has its own characteristics and set of educational guidelines that must be defended at all costs.”

Granted this rendering comes from a translation, not the original Italian in which it was spoken, but it seems curious that the headmistress sees herself as a “defender” of the faith, which seems to be under siege.  Such a sad attitude, and perhaps it is one which other church leaders share.

LGBT people are not out to destroy Catholicism or religion.  On the contrary, their experience of overcoming hatred, oppression, and fear contains many important elements which bring much life and spirit to faith.

If Church leaders would be able to stop seeing homosexuality as “a problem,” as the headmistress in this story described it, I know that it would be simply a small step for them to start recognizing the spiritual richness that LGBT offer the church community.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related article

TheLocal.it: “Lesbian teacher fired ‘to protect Catholic school’”


Catholics React to Obama Signing LGBT Executive Order

July 22, 2014

President Obama signing the executive order on Monday

President Barack Obama signed an executive order yesterday prohibiting employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity by companies and organizations which contract with the federal government.

Most notably, Obama stood up to pressure from some religious leaders and did not include expanded religious exemptions in the order, the possibility of which had caused renewed fears in the wake of the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision earlier this month.

Catholic LGBT advocates generally applauded the president, while the US bishops decried the order as “unprecedented and extreme.”

Below, Bondings 2.0 offers several commentaries on the executive order. We will cover religious exemptions, and specifically the future of LGBT rights in light of such exemptions, tomorrow.

Shortly after the executive order was signed, Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore, chair of the Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty, and Bishop Richard Malone of Buffalo, chair of the Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life, and Youth called on Catholics to oppose it, claiming that it “implements discrimination” by using the government’s economic power to enforce a “deeply flawed understanding of human sexuality.” Because the executive order omitted religious exemptions they claim the directive “is fundamentally flawed in itself, also needlessly prefers conflict and exclusion over coexistence and cooperation.”

Michael Sean Winters of the National Catholic Reporter wants the US bishops to move on and set the LGBT non-discrimination issue aside altogether:

“Too many bishops are still crouched in a defensive posture, too willing to let the faith be reduced to ethics (and that, only sexual ethics), then reduced to a legal strategy, convinced that the forces of secularization are hostile, organized and winning. This worldview, I would submit, is not the approach that has permitted Pope Francis to capture the imagination of the world…there is nothing in the Church’s teaching that demands gay people be systematically discriminated against in hiring at our Catholic institutions. This is a fight we should decline.”

However, many Catholics not only accept the order but have welcomed it without broader religious exemptions. Francis DeBernardo, executive director, of New Ways Ministry wrote in The Advocate about why Catholics and people of faith do not want broad religious exemptions in a post-Hobby Lobby nation. He begins:

“It used to be that religious leaders and lawmakers could strike a comfortable balance of protecting faith groups’ rights to self-determination and LGBT people’s rights to equal opportunity. But the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision disturbed that balance…

“Because the Hobby Lobby decision broadened the scope of what kind of entities can claim religious exemptions, several national organizations working for LGBT equality now fear that such provisions in ENDA will render the proposed law’s protections meaningless…Similarly, the Supreme Court case seems to have emboldened some conservative religious leaders to lobby Obama to include strong exemption language in his upcoming executive order.”

DeBernardo points out that though Hobby Lobby referred to the debate over insurance coverage for birth control, the connections to LGBT rights is an easy leap. Corporations are now granted religious beliefs, and could conceivably be able to seek religious exemptions to discriminate against LGBT people. He writes:

“Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, said, ‘If a private company can take its own religious beliefs and say you can’t have access to certain health care, it’s a hop, skip, and a jump to an interpretation that a private company could have religious beliefs that LGBT people are not equal or somehow go against their beliefs and therefore fire them.’ And Equally Blessed, the Catholic LGBT equality coalition, detailed some of the potential disasters that can spring from this case: ‘This ruling might open the door for corporations not to provide benefits to employees in same-sex marriages, or not to cover appropriate health care services for transgender employees.’ “

He closes by speaking about his own Catholic faith, and the importance of understanding a few key points: that conscience is supreme for Catholics, that religions are not homogenous, that the bishops do not speak for lay Catholics, and that LGBT justice is something Catholics and other people of faith seek because of, not in spite of, their faith. DeBernardo concludes:

“As a practicing Catholic, I see that such an expansion cheapens the position of faith in society. Faith is about developing an intimate relationship with a personal God and reflecting that relationship in my attitudes and practices toward other people. Faith is about sacrificing some privileges because of wanting to live in accord with principles. Faith is not about having access to government contracts. Faith is not about forcing people to live by an employer’s personal beliefs, no matter how sincerely those beliefs may be held. Hobby Lobby’s approach to religious exemptions diminishes the importance of persons and relationships in religion…

“My Catholic faith teaches me that all people have human dignity, that all people are equal. The Catholic social justice tradition teaches me that the right to employment is a sacred and basic human right and should be respected by individuals and institutions such as government. My respect for religion teaches me to value the diversity of religious opinions, as well as the diversity of human beings. From these perspectives, both ENDA and the expected executive order are better served without any religious exemptions included.”

You can read the full piece on The Advocate‘s website by clicking here.

The Equally Blessed coalition, which consists of four national Catholic organizations which work for justice and equality for LGBT people, applauded President Obama’s action, noting:

“As Catholics, we know firsthand why these protections are so important. On a near weekly basis, a Catholic teacher, parish employee or hospital worker is fired because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. In the last few months, news headlines have been filled with stories about Catholic employees who lost their jobs after marrying their same-sex partners, coming out as transgender, or for simply standing in support of their LGBT children.

“The President’s executive order will be an important step toward protecting these LGBT Catholic employees who serve our church and wider society so faithfully and who have been particularly vulnerable to discrimination. We applaud President Obama’s decision to not include a broad religious exemption in his executive order, which would have left our Catholic teachers, health care workers and administrators open to continued discrimination.”

Finally, David Gibson of Religion News Service reports that even  a religious leader who had sought broad exemptions are pleased with Obama because the executive order  maintains the Bush-era policy which allows preferential hiring of co-religionists.  For example, Stephen Schneck of The Catholic University of America and former co-chair of Catholics for Obama, who had lobbied for broader religious exemptions, said he was pleased with the executive order as it was signed because it  “has left open a path that religious groups can work with.”

In the coming week, Bondings 2.0 will consider the failure of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, commonly known as ENDA, and where Catholic advocates for LGBT justice are moving next when it comes to protecting employment rights.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Related Articles

New York Times: “Obama Urges Congress to Ban Job Bias Against Gays”

New York Times: “Obama to Issue Order Barring Anti-Gay Bias by Contractors


Fired Food Pantry Worker Files Lawsuit, Seeks Healing

July 20, 2014

Colleen Simon at work in the food pantry

Colleen Simon was “shell-shocked” when her Catholic employer fired her for being a married lesbian woman. Now, Simon is firing back in a lawsuit against the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph filed last Thursday.

The lawsuit also includes Bishop Robert Finn, who in 2012 was the first U.S. bishop convicted of a crime relating to clergy sexual abuse of children, and it alleges civil fraud because Catholic administrators told Simon her marital status would not be a problem.

Simon coordinated the St. Francis Xavier Church food pantry in Kansas City, Missouri, before being fired for her marriage to Lutheran pastor Donna Simon. Rachel Zoll of the Associated Press details how the firing came about:

“In each step of the hiring process, she said she told administrators she had married a woman a year earlier in Iowa, where gay marriage is recognized, and diocesan and parish representatives said her marital status would not be a problem…

“When a new priest was assigned to the church, Simon said she told the new pastor she was in a same-sex marriage. Then, the Simons were mentioned in a news article about the redevelopment of their neighborhood, accompanied by a photo of Colleen Simon working at the food pantry.

“Soon after, the priest told Simon he had to fire her over the article. The dismissal letter sent last month from the diocese human resources director said she was fired because of the ‘irreconcilable conflict between the laws, discipline and teaching of the Catholic Church, and your relationship — formalized by an act of marriage in Iowa — to a person of the same sex.’ “

Brian Roewe of the National Catholic Reporter provides further details about what led up to the firing, and notes that the news article was a lengthy magazine piece featuring a dozen people alongside Simon who are involved with community development near the Jesuit-run St. Francis Xavier Parish. Roewe continues:

“Buried in the 79th paragraph, the story mentions Colleen’s and Donna’s marriage; so does a caption for a photo of Colleen Simon in the food pantry.”

Simon recalls that when she told Jesuit Fr. John Vowells about the firing of an LGBT employee from another Jesuit institution, he said “he couldn’t imagine that happening at St. Francis.” The new priest, Jesuit Fr. Rafael Garcia, also informed Simon the marriage was okay and even met her wife. Roewe explains how events turned:

“After the Star story ran, Garcia emailed Simon expressing his displeasure about the revelation of her marriage. According to the lawsuit, Garcia also contacted the reporter of the story to ask what Simon said about her marriage. He asked the reporter if she was Catholic, and when she replied she was not, he ‘stated to her that she didn’t know what she had done,’ the suit said.”

It appears Simon sought reconciliation before filing the lawsuit, but was rebuffed by the diocese. Simon’s lawyer said there had been no contact from Church officials for several weeks. Jack Smith, who is communications director for the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, said he had not seen the lawsuit but “as a Church we have the right to live and operate according to our faith and Church teachings.”

Currently, Colleen Simon is searching for work pursuant with her passion for upending social injustices. She has said the firing was a mix-up and would love to return serving the St. Francis Xavier community if it could be sorted out appropriately, saying further:

” ‘We’re talking about not corporate America. We’re talking about the church of Christ. And as long as we have faith and we truly believe, then there’s always hope that broken relationships can be healed…’ “

Bondings 2.0 reported on Simon’s firing in May, which you can read here. At that time, we questioned why Catholic officials continued to fire LGBT employees when the negative impacts on the Church’s charitable efforts and pastoral work were so clear. Simon now joins the ranks of several dozen LGBT musicians, pastoral associates, teachers, and volunteers who have been forced out of their jobs since 2008 (a full listing and accompanying information is available here).

Sadly, the Church is diminished when compassionate workers like Colleen Simon are fired for whom they love, or when justice organizations like the Voz Workers’ Rights Education Project are defunded by the bishops for refusing to agree to anti-LGBT views.

Yet, Colleen Simon also provides a hopeful way forward for church workers and all struggling with unjust Catholic structures: the twin goals of justice and reconciliation. She demands accountability through the lawsuit as a mandate of justice for the wrongs committed against her, but she remains open to healing relationships and reconciling so that the Gospel work to which she feels called may proceed. May we all learn from her example as we build up a Catholic community that is just, forgiving, and inclusive!

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


New Employment Contract Clauses Raise a Host of Issues

July 13, 2014

Bishop Michael Barber

Oakland, California’s Bishop Michael Barber issued a statement recently to try to clarify the new clauses added to his diocese’s employment contracts which greatly restrict support for LGBT people and issues.  The problem with his explanation, though, is that he seems to be speaking out of both sides of his mouth.

The National Catholic Reporter’s Monica Clark noted the sentences in his statement which I find most confusing:

“Responding to apprehensions about a new so-called ‘morality clause’ in the Oakland, Calif., diocese’s teacher contract, Bishop Michael Barber has said he has ‘no intention of monitoring an individual’s personal life. What one does in one’s private life is between them and God.’ But, he added, ‘what concerns me is if someone does something in their private life that becomes public and then becomes a cause of scandal or detracts from the school’s religious mission.’ “

To me the bishop seems to be saying, “I don’t care if you do something that I consider a sin, but I just don’t want it to be public.”   That does not seem like a very pastoral approach to this question at all.

If we take it one step further, another way of interpreting the bishop’s message is that he has a total disregard for an individual’s conscience.  Perhaps he is saying, “You and God may have worked things out, but that won’t fly with me.”

And though the bishop says he does not want to monitor people’s lives, some teachers are suspicious of that promise.  Clark reported:

“Some teachers felt the addition allows the diocese to intrude into their private lives and creates a climate of fear and distrust. For example, if a teacher attended the same-sex wedding of her lesbian niece and a family photo of the event was posted on Facebook, would she be seen as violating the new terms of the contract?”

Indeed, in a number of the firings which have taken place, it was a revelation on Facebook about a marital relationship or support for marriage equality which initiated the unjust action.

Commentator Jocelyn Sideco, who teaches at Bishop O’Dowd High School in Oakland,  has also noted another passage from the new Oakland contract which makes it seem that, in fact, private lives of teachers will be monitored:

“The new contract language puts an explicitness on who teachers are, both in their personal and professional lives. ‘In both the EMPLOYEE’S personal and professional life, the EMPLOYEE is expected to model and promote behavior in conformity with the teaching of the Roman Catholic faith in matters of faith and morals, and to do nothing that tends to bring discredit to the SCHOOL or to the Diocese of Oakland’ (emphasis in original).”

Another O’Dowd H.S. teacher, Kathleen Purcell, is worried about how strictly enforced the contract will be, under this bishop and future ones. KALW Radio cited her thoughts:

“ ‘The bishop says I’m not gonna fire anybody, and I take him at his word,’ Purcell said. ‘But he’s not going to be Bishop forever, and he might change his mind. I don’t think employees should have to be operating under a contract that purports to take away their civil rights and just go on trust.’

“Purcell was let go after refusing to sign the new contract. She says she was not afraid of being targeteit is a matter of principle: before teaching U.S. history at O’Dowd, Purcell was a civil rights lawyer.

“Purcell says she understands Catholic doctrine but she says ‘being a catholic school is not a license to discriminate.’

“ ‘These are contentious issues in the church, about which faithful Catholics have very different conscientious positions. And what this contract language does is to place employees personal lives in the middle of that fight. And that’s cruel.’ ”

On the bright side, KALW Radio reports that the bishop has entered into dialogue with Catholics about the issue, and there is a possibility of a change of heart:

“The Bishop . . . met with teachers and students at two schools, including O’Dowd, at the end of the school year. Many say they were encouraged by the open dialogue. The Bishop says he is considering removing the controversial language from next years contract. For now though, it remains unchanged.”

Oakland is not the only diocese to institute new contract clauses. (For a complete list of firings and contract clause additions, check out this blog’s “Catholicism, Employment, and LGBT Issues” page.) One of the most public protests of new clauses has been in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati.  Catholic parishioner Judy Hampel penned an op-ed at Cincinnati.com in which she says that it’s now time for Catholic to challenge their leaders on questions of discrimination against LGBT people:

“I’m trying to describe a not-uncommon experience that leaves many Catholics straddling a thorny pew: Should we stay, and hope and wait for a new vision for our faith community, or should we leave in protest before we find ourselves counted among those who would perpetuate such a dark legacy for the sake of tradition? Until recently, many of us never even considered a third possibility: challenging these egregious teachings openly by voicing our concerns. There is a very real danger that, whether we leave or stay, we are perpetuating a dark regime as long as we are silent. . . .

“It’s time to make up for lost time. It’s time for all Catholics and anyone else who will join us to collectively call to task all leaders and followers of any religion, sect or denomination that indulges in discriminatory doctrines and practices. Because, let’s face it, one of the most compelling forces inhibiting universal justice is intolerance toward others, which is often perpetuated by religious archaisms.”

It may very well be that time that Hampel describes.  According to a 2013 U.S. Catholic poll of 743 Catholics,  nearly 70% (or over 500 people) would not sign a loyalty oath if it was required for volunteer ministry in their parish.

With numbers like that, church leaders need to re-think not only the morality, but also the practicality, or instituting new contract clauses.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Fired Gay Teacher Files Legal Complaint in a Case Where Ironies Abound

July 11, 2014

The running controversy over LGBT people being fired from jobs in Catholic schools and parishes has mostly quieted down in the last month.  That silence, though, is probably due more to the fact that schools are on break and parishes are in “lite” mode for the summer than because of any moratorium on firings.

Flint Dollar

The topic surfaced again this week with news that one fired teacher is filing an equal opportunity claim against the Catholic school that fired him.

Flint Dollar, who was fired from his job as a music teacher at Mount de Sales Academy, Macon, Georgia, when it was learned that he intended to marry a man.

Dollar has had a difficult time seeking legal recourse in this situation.  This week, his lawyer announced that they found grounds to make a legal case against the school.  National Public Radio reports:

Since neither federal law nor state law in Georgia expressly forbids employers from discriminating against gays, it initially seemed like there was nothing Dollar could do. But Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which turned 50 this week, does prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex. Dollar’s lawyer, Charles Cox, sees an opening there.

“When you fire somebody because they are engaging in a same-sex marriage, I think that pretty clearly fits with gender discrimination,” Cox says. “You’re being fired because you’re not complying with traditional gender stereotypes, and that’s wrong, and we believe it’s unlawful.”

Though this strategy has been tried before in courts and failed, there is hope in this case because of a legal precedent set in April of this year:

“. . . [A] judge in Washington made a ruling in a lawsuit brought by federal employee Peter TerVeer. TerVeer claims his supervisor at the Library of Congress made his work life miserable because TerVeer is gay.

“LGBT rights attorney Greg Nevins, who is helping with TerVeer’s case, explains how TerVeer sued under Title VII:

” ‘His romantic or intimate interest in men is something that the women workers at the office were not penalized for, but he was,’ Nevins says. ‘He made that claim in federal district court, and the court allowed it to proceed, despite a motion to dismiss by the Department of Justice.’ “

“Now the TerVeer case is giving hope to people like Dollar. He’s filed a complaint with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, or EEOC, alleging sex discrimination.”

The Georgia Voice also notes another precedent that Dollar’s lawyer raised:

“Cox also cites Glenn v. Brumby, the Eleventh Circuit court case from 2011 which found that the Georgia General Assembly fired activist Vandy Beth Glenn due to her being transgender, which was a violation of the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution that protects against gender discrimination.

“ ‘The same thing applies to same-sex marriage because that’s not conforming to traditional gender stereotypes,’ Cox says.”

The Dollar case has sparked a variety of commentary examining some of the moral questions involved in the action of firing.  Back in June, David Oedel, a law professor, wrote about some of the ironies of the case:

“In its employee handbook and website, the school articulates policies of nondiscrimination as to ‘sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression,’ ‘marital status’ and ‘any other characteristic or status that is protected by federal, state, or local law.’

“Federal law protects the right to travel to other states and avail oneself of the benefits of other states’ laws, so the school apparently accepts Dollar’s right to go to Minnesota, join in a same-sex marriage, and have that marriage honored by federal law. Georgia doesn’t legally have to respect such a marriage, and neither did Mount de Sales — until the school adopted its nondiscrimination policy and made promises to Dollar.

“There’s little ambiguity about Roman Catholic teachings on promise-keeping. The church endorses keeping promises, such as those between church-married partners and, presumably, promises Mount de Sales apparently made to Dollar to hire and retain Dollar despite his sexual orientation, committed relationship and marriage plans.”

The school’s action is surprising to Oedel, given the progressive history of the institution:

“It wouldn’t have been a stretch for Dollar to take the school at its word because the school is known in Macon as a path-breaking institution. Mount de Sales was the first school here publicly to educate those of various faiths, first to integrate and first to embrace such a wide-open nondiscrimination policy. From some national press, though, you’d think the school is a regressive horror-chamber.”

And the contradiction goes even deeper:

“One wonders what St. Francis de Sales, for whom the school is named, would think. Francis famously advocated charity over penance. Where is Christ’s charity in firing Dollar now?”

For comprehensive coverage of all the firings, click on “Employment Issues” in the “Categories” box in the right-hand column of this page.  You can find a complete list of fired employees on this blog’s “Catholicism, Employment, & LGBT Issues” page. 

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry
Related articles:

The Telegraph: “Fired Mount de Sales band director files EEOC claim”

The Telegraph: “Bigotry, prejudice and grace”

 

 


Religious Leaders, Including Catholics, Call on Obama to Oppose Religious Exemption in Upcoming Executive Order

July 9, 2014

President Barack Obama’s expected executive order barring federal contractors from employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity has sparked a controversy because some religious leaders have asked him to include a broad religious exemption in the order.

But, yesterday, Obama heard from a different group of religious leaders, this one asking him not to inscribe discrimination into his executive order by including a religious exemption.  Over 100 diverse clergy, academic, and lay leaders wrote to the president asking him to truly protect LGBT people by not providing language that would exempt religious institutions.

At least seven Catholics were among the letter’s signers:  Francis DeBernardo, executive director, New Ways Ministry; Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director, Dignity/USA; Jim FitzGerald, executive director, Call To Action; Sister Jeannine Gramick, executive coordinator, National Coalition of American Nuns; Mary Hunt, Women’s Alliance for Theology, Ethics, and Ritual; Jon O’Brien, President, Catholics for Choice; Deb Word, President, Fortunate Families.

The letter argues the case against religious exemptions from a variety of perspectives.  First, there are practical considerations:

“Requiring all federal contractors to operate according to the same set of non-discriminatory hiring practices is more than fair; it is a critical safeguard that protects all parties. If contractors were allowed to selectively follow employment or other laws according to their religious beliefs, we would quickly create an untenable morass of legal disputes. Furthermore, if selective exemptions to the executive order were permitted, the people who would suffer most would be the people who always suffer most when discrimination is allowed: the individuals and communities that are already marginalized.”

There is also the religious perspective:

“Increasing the obstacles faced by those at the margins is precisely the opposite of what public service can and should do, and is precisely the opposite of the values we stand for as people of faith.”

The letter also argued from logic:

“An executive order that allows for religious discrimination against LGBT people contradicts the order’s fundamental purpose, as well as the belief shared by more and more Americans every day, which is that LGBT people should not be treated as second-class citizens. An exception would set a terrible precedent by denying true equality for LGBT people, while simultaneously opening a Pandora’s Box inviting other forms of discrimination.”

The letter also argued from the perspective of American cultural values:

“In a nation as diverse as the United States of America, it is critical that the federal government be trusted to follow—and indeed, to role-model—equitable employment practices. We believe that our mutual commitment to the common good is best served by policies that prohibit discrimination based on factors that have no relationship whatsoever to job performance. We are better and stronger as a nation when hiring decisions are made based on professional merit   rather than personal identity.”

You can read the entire text of the letter, with a list of all signers, here.

In addition to the letter, more than 30,000 U.S. Christians have signed a grassroots petition urging President Obama to oppose those who would use their faith to justify anti-gay discrimination. The petition, organized by Faithful America, reads, in part:

“There’s nothing Christian about firing someone just because they’re gay or lesbian. Taxpayer dollars shouldn’t fund discrimination.”

The letter from faith leaders and the Faithful America petition were in part a response by last week’s Hobby Lobby decision, which many feared would become a slippery slope to expand religious exemptions.

As a person of faith, what are your thoughts about religious exemptions?  Offer your ideas in the “Comments” section of this post.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related articles:

National Catholic Reporter: “Obama’s faith-based advisers divided over religious exemption for anti-gay discrimination”

ThinkProgress.com: 100 Faith Leaders To Obama: Religious Liberty Shouldn’t Be Used To Discriminate Against LGBT People

New York Times: “Faith Groups Seek Exclusion From Bias Rule”


Religious Leaders Want Right to Discriminate in Obama’s LGBT Executive Order

July 6, 2014

President Obama meets with Pope Francis, who has asked Catholic leaders to refrain from judging LGBT people and instead build up the common good for all

Prominent Catholics have teamed with other religious leaders in calling on President Barack Obama to include extensive religious exemptions in his promised executive order which will state that federal contractors cannot discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. These religious leaders are attempting to enshrine anti-LGBT discrimination into law, and to further mask it as religious belief.  Such an action raises troubling questions on just where the hierarchy of the Catholic Church in America is focused.

Fourteen religious leaders with close ties to the president submitted a letter to the White House on Tuesday, including Catholic Charities CEO Fr. Larry Snyder and Dr. Stephen Schneck, director of the Institute for Policy Research & Catholic Studies at The Catholic University of America. Michelle Boorstein of The Washington Post reports:

“The letter reminds Obama of his own earlier faith-based opposition to same-sex marriage, as well as the government’s massive partnerships with faith-based social service groups that work on issues including housing, disaster relief and hunger…

“The signers said they supported the executive order — ‘we have great appreciation for your commitment to human dignity and justice, and we share those values with you”’— but said an exemption is essential.”

UPDATE:  Another, similar letter asking for a religious exemption, sent to Obama with 138 signatures from religious leaders, has also been made public.

The White House has refused to comment on the letters thus far, though Schneck said he is hopeful that an exemption could be worked out.

Additionally, several bishops who chair committees at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops released their own statement against the executive order. Joshua McElwee of the National Catholic Reporter writes:

” ‘Because we do not know how the executive order will define these critically important terms [sexual orientation and gender identity], or if it will provide sufficient (or any) religious freedom protection, we cannot provide substantive comment on the order,’ state the bishops.

” ‘On the other hand, when the U.S. Senate recently passed legislation on the same topic, we raised detailed objections to that legislation,’ they continue, asking those interested to review their previous comments on the Senate legislation…

“Friday’s statement was signed by four U.S. bishops’ committee chairmen: San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone, chairman of the bishops’ subcommittee for the promotion and defense of marriage; Miami Archbishop Thomas Wenski, chairman of their domestic policy committee; Baltimore Archbishop William Lori, chairman of their ad hoc committee for religious liberty; and St. Paul-Minneapolis Archbishop John Nienstedt, chair of their committee on doctrine.”

At least two bishops who signed the letter, Archbishops Cordileone and Nienstedt, have been heavily criticized lately for their aggressive opposition to marriage equality. Cordileone appeared alongside anti-LGBT groups in June at the March for Marriage, even while 30,000 Catholics asked him to forgo the event. Nienstedt is currently being investigated for multiple allegations that he made sexual advances on priests and seminarians.

LGBT advocates have long opposed religious exemptions, and several like the National Center for Lesbian Rights and Get Equal have withdrawn support for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act in its current form over such exemptions. Chuck Colbert writes in PrideSource about this ongoing debate around exemptions, noting the near absence of such exemptions in previous civil rights legislation. He reports:

“Advocates for LGBT equality maintain the proposed religious exemption, unprecedented in civil rights legislation, would in effect gut the non-discrimination protections…

“On the matter of social conservatives’ efforts to empower discrimination against LGBTs, Jay Michaelson, Ph.D. offered his assessment.

” ‘Religious conservatives have really succeeded at ‘moving the goalposts’ here. Just two years ago, this kind of broad exemption was a huge compromise for the Obama administration, in the context of the Affordable Care Act. Now, ENDA’s backers are offering it up as the default position. That is a huge, silent victory. And we all know what the ultimate goal is: Religious exemptions for anyone who wants one, including corporations and individuals. That would represent a tragic erosion of the rule of law’…

” ‘Employment non-discrimination is vitally important, but at what cost?…Hopefully, progressive members of Congress will insist on an appropriate, narrow exemption for churches and religious functionaries, while rejecting this over-broad one that would leave hospital orderlies, school cafeteria workers and shopping mall security guards without protection.’ “

After last week’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling in the Hobby Lobby case, the idea that corporations could discriminate against employees based on their sexual orientation or gender identity does not seem so far fetched. You can read Bondings 2.0 initial reporting on the Court’s decision and potential impacts by clicking here.

Michael Sean Winters, in his third post on the proposed executive order, asks a pivotal question: “Why do we need to have this fight?…Why do the leaders of the Church want to have this fight, on this issue?” Reading up on the USCCB’s backgrounder on ENDA, Winters explores why the bishops seek religious exemptions in the first place. Apparently, they are concerned that employers would provide healthcare and “other fringe benefits” to same-gender partners. Of this, Winters writes:

“Health coverage is not properly termed a ‘fringe benefit’ by leaders of a Church that has repeatedly taught that access to health care is a basic human right. Our nation has a particularly quirky way of delivering health care coverage, through employers. It makes no sense, to be sure, but it is what it is. But, it is not clear to me how the providing of such benefits can be seen as ‘facilitating or cooperating with same-sex sexual relationships.’ The employee engaged in a same sex relationship is not looking for approval or permission from his employer. He or she is looking for health care benefits from the employer. If there is a heterosexual, married couple, they may, on their free time, be engaged in any manner of activities that the Church would not endorse, but we do not investigate that.”

Looking to the past, when Cardinal William Levada, formerly of San Francisco, negotiated with that city when extensive non-discrimination policies were passed, Winters believes the bishops need not have fought at all:

“I do not see how hiring someone who is a good teacher or a good counselor or a good cook, and who keeps their private life private, requires us to sniff around their bedrooms…

“Twelve or even ten years ago, if the leadership of the USCCB had followed the +Levada model…I suspect we would be in a better place, the culture wars would be diminished, and the Church would not have the aggressively litigious face it wears today…The culture warriors in the conference decided that instead of trying to balance the dignity and legitimate interests of gay people in gaining access to benefits, we were going to dig in, to fight, draw a line in the sand.”

Winters points to younger Catholics’ views as the best evidence that the bishops’ unceasing opposition to LGBT rights is becoming fringe itself:

“I encourage them to go to any place that young people hang out and ask them their thoughts on same sex relationships. Those young people do not feel threatened by gay people. Those young people will not discourse on the threats to religious liberty. Those young people will ask simple, and better, questions such as: ‘Why not help people gain access to health care?’ That is a question the USCCB has failed to ask, let alone answer, in this situation. If the conference did ask that question, they would be less likely to take to the barricades.”

It remains an open question how Catholic institutions, and specifically those like Catholic Charities and Catholic Relief Services which contract with the federal government, will respond to the upcoming executive order. For inspiration, they could turn to Catholic Vice President Joe Biden who many credit with moving the Obama administration towards greater LGBT equality. Hopefully, cooler hearts and clearer minds will prevail and realize the common good is far better advanced by protecting LGBT rights and continuing the good work of the Church in relationship with the government.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Related Articles

National Catholic Reporter, “Faith leaders call for religious exemption from LGBT executive order


What Impact Will Hobby Lobby Ruling Have on LGBT Rights?

July 2, 2014

Demonstrators gather outside Supreme Court building for Hobby Lobby ruling

Monday’s Supreme Court ruling in the Burwell v. Hobby Lobby case is causing LGBT advocates to question what practical impacts it may have in LGBT people’s lives as corporate personhood advances and for-profit businesses now ‘have’ religious beliefs in our nation’s courts.

First, an explanation of the case may be helpful, and Mark Silk of Religion News Service provided an excellent background of some of the key issues and factors:

“When the decision comes out in June, Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood will be given not an exemption to the contraception mandate but an accommodation comparable to what has been afforded to religious non-profits, under terms that define the nature and character of for-profit companies that can make free-exercise claims. Free exercise rights will thus be extended, but not at the expense of the government’s compelling interest in gender equity, which will be preserved via the requirement that the cost of contraceptive coverage be assumed by the insurers who administer the insurance plans of the qualifying companies…

“In order to understand the decision, you have to know that it is based on the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), which tells the court that in order to overrule a claim of religious free exercise (against federal law), 1) the state must have a compelling interest to do so; and 2) in doing so it employs the least restrictive means. In Hobby Lobby, the court assumed (without coming to an actual determination) that the state interest in providing the full range of contraceptive services was compelling, but (as I predicted) found that the Obamacare mandate was not the least restrictive means of fulfilling that interest.”

dotCommonweal blogger Grant Gallicho pointed out that the decision applies only to corporations that are “closely held” (meaning fewer than five individuals own more than half the stock value of a company) and applies only to the Department of Health and Human Service’s contraception mandate. The Court explicitly states this ruling is not intended to allow people to use religious beliefs to deny other medical procedures or to  allow racial discrimination. How the ruling may be used in cases of exual orientation and gender identity remain an open question. For a full round-up of what the ruling does and does not allow, see US Catholic‘s report here.

Still, the decision’s constraints are not allaying fears of LGBT advocates who see that the logic in the Hobby Lobby case may expand into other employment issues. A report in The Advocate stated:

“Activists had warned that if Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties — the businesses that challenged Obamacare — could use their “sincerely held religious beliefs” to deny contraception to employees, then they might use the same power to deny health care to transgender people or might withhold coverage for HIV and AIDS treatment to LGBT employees…

“Some had warned that depending on the reach of the ruling, business owners might try to use the decision to object to mental health services or substance abuse treatment — health issues that disproportionately affect LGBT Americans.”

“Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, in her dissent, noted that she is ‘mindful of the havoc the Court’s judgment can introduce’ and went on to explore that. ‘Although the Court attempts to cabin its language to closely held corporations,’ she wrote, ‘its logic extends to corporations of any size, public or private. Little doubt that RFRA claims will proliferate.’

“Ginsburg further wrote, ‘Until today, religious exemptions had never been extended to any entity operating in ‘the commercial, profit-making world.’ Profit-making companies do not exist to further religious goals, and their employees are drawn from a multitude of faiths, she pointed out.”

Unsurprisingly, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) celebrated the ruling saying “justice has prevailed.” The National Catholic Reporter observed that other bishops reaffirmed their commitment to the USCCB’s  ‘religious liberty’ campaign. You can read the USCCB’s full statement here. Despite the bishops’ support of the decions, so far, it seems, Americans disagree with the Supreme Court’s ruling.

Equally Blessed, a coalition of Catholic organizations committed to LGBT justice that includes Call To Action, DignityUSA, Fortunate Families, and New Ways Ministry, said in a statement:

“The Supreme Court’s ruling could have disturbing and harmful consequences for our country. By allowing privately held corporations to be exempt from compliance with laws with which they disagree on religious grounds, the Court may have unintentionally opened the door to enormous social confusion and instability. They may have also ushered in an era of increased discrimination, making it harder for many to access a wide range of services and benefits.

“While it may seem that this is a narrow ruling focused on how women access contraceptive medications, the reality is this judgment could have incredible ramifications throughout the U.S. This ruling might open the door for corporations not to provide benefits to employees in same-sex marriages, or not to cover appropriate health care services for transgender employees.

“Equally Blessed members said it is distressing to hear religious belief put forward as a rationale for continued discrimination, when most people understand the religion should be about respect, love, and inclusion.”

However, not all LGBT advocates are worried and some believe the debate will depend on whether President Obama signs a promised executive order protecting LGBT federal workers triggering new lawsuits. Religion News Service reports:

“If Obama signs the executive order or Congress passes ENDA (a bill stalled for 16 years), the same battle could ensue with religious owners of private businesses, said Kevin Theriot,  vice president of religious freedom litigation for Alliance Defending Freedom, which represented the owners of Conestoga…

“Ian Thompson, of the American Civil Liberties Union, who specializes in legislation affecting the LGBT community, said that ‘while the court expanded corporate power, it made really clear that the decision was narrow. It will not operate as a shield from other kinds of discrimination laws.’

“Like Thompson, Human Rights Campaign legal director Sarah Warbelow pointed to the majority opinion, written by Justice Samuel Alito, which made a point of saying the justices were talking only about health care and not opening the door for broad interpretations.”

In more hopeful news, Buzzfeed reports that the Supreme Court upheld California’s ban on ‘reparative therapy’ without comment. California will now be able to enforce a ban on services which try to ‘convert’ gay youth to a heterosexual orientation.

As for whether the Hobby Lobby case will cause increased LGBT discrimination by employers citing religious belief, it remains to be seen.  LGBT people of faith must remain vigilant that their beliefs are not used to justify exclusion.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Related Articles

America, “Hobby Lobby Reactions


How Will Catholic Institutions Respond to Obama’s Executive Order?

June 19, 2014

President Barack Obama

It looks very likely that President Barack Obama will sign an executive order next Monday requiring that federal contractors cannot discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.  In doing so, the president may be in for some pushback from Catholic organizations, depending upon how the religious exemptions in the executive order are defined.

Jesuit Father Thomas Reese, writing in The National Catholic Reporterobserved that

“. . . . the new requirement may affect Catholic Relief Services, Catholic hospitals, Catholic education and other Catholic charities that receive federal funds. These institutions normally provide services to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people without discrimination, but problems have arisen with regards to adoptions by gay couples and spousal benefits for gay employees.”

Father Thomas Reese, SJ

Father Thomas Reese, SJ

Fr. Reese recounts the history, at the state level, of Catholic agencies cutting or closing their services rather than agree to abide by non-discrimination policies:

“. . .  in 2006, Catholic adoption programs were closed in Massachusetts and San Francisco because the state and city said the agencies could not receive funds if they refused to sponsor children with gay couples. Dioceses in Illinois pulled out of adoption services for the same reason in 2011. . . .

“In 2010, the Washington archdiocese also got out of the adoption business when gay marriage became legal in the city. It was also threatened with the loss of funding to help the poor when the city council required that employers with city contracts provide spousal benefits to gay employees. Instead, the charities eliminated spousal benefits for all future employees. Since heterosexual employees would not receive spousal benefits, the agencies could not be accused of discrimination.”

But he also notes a case that has long been forgotten.  The case shows a rare example of pragmatism, especially coming from a bishop who would eventually become the prefect of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.  Fr. Reese explains:

‘In 1997, San Francisco Archbishop William Levada tried a different approach. He allowed Catholic agencies to offer benefits to one other person living in the employee’s household, which might be a dependent parent, child, sibling or partner. Since the focus was not on domestic partners, he found this acceptable. But once gay marriage was legal, this solution fell apart.’

We need that type of pragmatism again in the church.  It is a shame that the culture war mentality has heightened so much that church leaders sometimes prefer a “scorched earth” approach rather than seeing how they can effectively interact with governmental regulations.

 

Michael Sean Winters

Michael Sean Winters

National Catholic Reporter columnist Michael Sean Winters provides some political background of Obama’s expected executive order:

‘The Senate has already passed a version of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, or ENDA, but the House is unlikely to take action on the bill (or on any other bill for that matter). So, Obama has decided to do what he can by executive fiat. . . .

‘If the new rule tracks with ENDA, there should be no worries. There is nothing in ENDA that violates Church teaching. The key question will be how robust the religious exemptions to the rule are.”

While I agree with Winters that nothing in ENDA violates Church teaching, unfortunately, the U.S. Catholic bishops did not see it that way, and they ended up opposing ENDA.

But Winters’ analysis takes a nasty turn, as he discusses the recent firings of gay and lesbian people from Catholic schools because of their decisions to marry legally.  He states:

“It is clear to me that teachers fall under the ministerial exemption: The passing on of the faith is about as essential a task as any religion has. I do not see any reason why a janitor’s sexual orientation matters one whit to anyone. And, while I prefer a “live and let live” approach to gay employees at our Catholic institutions, it is far from clear that gay rights advocates will accept such an approach. And, if a Catholic school has an employee who trumpets their deviation from Church teaching, on this or any issue, the pastor or principal should be concerned.”

First of all, if teachers fall under the ministerial exemption, then what are we to make of teachers in Catholic schools who are not Catholic.  Carla Hale, fired from her job as a physical education instructor, is a Methodist, and worked for 19 years at the school, even though her faith life was not in accord with Catholic teaching.  Should she get a ministerial exemption?

What about music teachers and band leaders, several of whom were fired?  Should what they teach be considered “passing on of the faith?”

As for “an employee who trumpets their deviation from Church teaching” what are we to do in the case of Ms. Hale whose relationship was merely mentioned in an obituary? What are we to do with other cases where administrators knew of teachers’ relationships for several years before a legal wedding took place?  Furthermore, does Winters mean that it is okay to deviate from Church teaching as long as one does that secretly?  The past decade of the sexual abuse crisis in the Church has been a painfully difficult lesson in what harm and damage secrecy breeds.

What I find discouraging in Winters’ analysis is that he seems to imply that any gay person living an honest life is a “gay advocate,” a role he seems to belittle.  In one spot, he talks about “a Catholic school’s reluctance to hire an openly gay advocate as a teacher.”  I’ve read a lot about and examined the cases of the people fired, and not one of these individuals appeared to be a “gay advocate.”  To me the term is intended to arouse fear and passion, rather than to describe reality.

What types of religious exemptions do you think would be appropriate for President Obama to include in his executive order.  Offer your thoughts in the “Comments” section of this post.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related resource

Catholicism, Employment, and LGBT Issues

 

 


Gay Parishioner Told to Observe Mass from Crying Room, Expelled from Ministries

June 18, 2014

Bobby Glenn Brown, right, and his partner, Don Roberts

Bobby Glenn Brown committed himself to his longtime partner, Don Roberts, in a small backyard wedding ceremony. For that, Brown has been removed from several parish volunteer positions in his Catholic parish in Marquette, Michigan, and told he may observe Mass only from the ‘crying room’ at the rear of the church.

The couple gathered with friends and family last Saturday for eacxh partner to make vows to one another after 31 years together, even while Michigan does not yet recognize their relationship legally. ABC News 10 reported on the following morning’s events:

“Brown was an active parishioner at St. Michael’s Catholic Church in Marquette as of Saturday, but an incident Sunday morning with Reverend Larry P. Van Damme caused him and several regular church-goers to boycott services in protest against the diocese. Less than twenty four hours after the a commitment ceremony, the couple’s tears of joy dried to heartbreak as Bobby Glenn Brown was all but blacklisted from participating in traditional Catholic ministries…

“Five parishioners at St. Michaels who were present at Sunday’s services accompanied Brown in the lobby before Sunday Mass then exited the building in solidarity after Van Damme confronted him about Saturday’s “fake”  wedding ceremony. Because of it, Brown said he was informed that clergy decided to restrict his participation.”

Restricted participation means Brown can no longer serve as a lector or music minister during liturgies, and he was removed from the pastoral council where he  had just been re-elected as was serving as acting secretary. The priest also told Brown “he now could only observe in the windowed section in the back of the church designated for crying babies.”

Parishioners rallied around Brown and Roberts. It was no secret that Brown was a partnered gay man during his years of service at the parish. Of the incident, Brown told ABC News 10:

” ‘It’s a mixed message, and I think it’s the wrong message…There is a psalm that says “loving and caring and forgiving are you, oh Lord”. That’s the message that needs to be brought to the students at Northern [Michigan University, which St. Michael's parish ministers] , especially to a church that’s so close to campus and a place where they should feel welcomed and able to worship. And that message is being lost.’…

” ‘And my whole point was, I never was anything else and I always have been who I am…To be told that you can’t worship or aren’t welcomed somewhere to worship where you’ve been so welcomed, that in itself sends a mixed message.’ “

Many parishioners are upset that Brown’s dismissal will  drive younger Catholics from the Universityaway. It seems older Catholics are considering a move as well, with longtime parishioner Kathy Crowley Andel saying:

” ‘I just think it’s wrong…Everybody is supposed to be welcome in the Church and God is a loving God, and I don’t think we should discriminate against anybody because that’s not what God wants us to do. Even Jesus welcomed everybody.’

” ‘I’m not sure where I’m going with things. I am looking at options. I mean, I was born and raised Catholic and have been very active with things, but at this time I just feel very, very crushed with what’s going on because I don’t think it’s right. It’s like, who are we to judge? And they’ve been together 30 years. They love each other…it’s just not right what’s going on.’ “

For their part, Fr. Van Damme and Diocese of Marquette officials have remained quiet aside from a statement from Bishop John Doerfler citing the need for ministers to “give witness to the Gospel and the Church’s teachings.”

In moments of pain, like this exclusion of LGBT Catholics from ministry and even participation in the liturgy, it is important to look for hopeful signs and ways of building bridges. Pope Francis’ more welcoming tone seems to be filtering down through some of the hierarchy, as the English bishops and Cardinal Vincent Nichols’ recent remarks on sexuality make clear. The US bishops do not quite understand yet, but Catholics must not negate the profound and positive impact of lay people can have in righting these parish- and school-based injustices.

Though we cannot necessarily right the wrongs against Bobby Glenn Brown and his partner, this incident is a moment for all of us to pause and consider two questions:

1. How can we actively support LGBT parishioners in the present moment?

2. How might we respond to the exclusion of a volunteer or firing of a church worker at our own parish and school?

If you have suggestions for either question, please leave them in the ‘Comments’ section below.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


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