In Omaha, the repercussions of Skutt H.S.’s decision not to renew the teaching contract of gay teacher Matthew Eledge are reverberating in the local community, the statehouse, and, perhaps even into the future.
The Catholic school made the employment decision when they learned from the English teacher and speech coach that he plans on marrying his partner, a man. Immediately, students, parents and alumni organized a petition drive–with over 45,000 signatures in two days–to support Eledge. But perhaps the most interesting developments are yet to come, as Eledge has stated that, as far as he knows, he is still employed by the school to finish out the academic year.
KETV reported that Eledge told them
“. . . that he respects the school and the Archdiocese.
“Eledge also said, while he’s scared and nervous, he is also humbled by the outreach from alumni, parents and the community.”
The case had repercussions at the Nebraska statehouse in Lincoln. KETV stated:
“Some state lawmakers sounded off during debate on the Legislature floor. . . .
” ‘No one should be fired or judged on the ridiculous standard of whom they love,’ Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks said.”
If you would like to see a copy of the Archdiocese of Omaha’s teacher contract, click here.
The case illustrates the importance of laws outlawing LGBT discrimination, though with the inclusion of religious exemptions, these laws would still not be applicable to Catholic institutions. In an Associated Press article, Steven Willborn, a University of Nebraska employment discrimination law professor said that a 2012 Omaha law and a proposed state law are both not applicable to Eledge’s case because of religious exemptions.
Wilborn was not without hope, though. The article reported:
“Any reversal would be more likely to come from a public opinion backlash, Willborn said, such as seen recently in Indiana when that state’s lawmakers passed a religious objections law that critics said would sanction discrimination against gays and lesbians.
” ‘Of course, the public opinion that would matter most at Skutt would be what their parents and supporters and donors think,’ Willborn said.”
The inclusion of a financial factor in Willborn’s analysis raises an important question. Throughout the last few years as we witnessed the over 40 employment disputes over LGBT issues in Catholic institutions, we have seen Catholic people protesting these unjust decisions from a faith perspective. The most significant feature of these protests has been the outpouring support from young people.
While Catholic school leaders need to question the justice of their actions in regard to dismissing employees over LGBT issues, they also need to think about the practical consequences for the future of these institutions. Will this next generation of Catholic students consider sending their children to schools which discriminate against LGBT people? If they don’t, how much longer will Catholic schools survive?
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry