LGBT Church Worker Struggles Continue in Court, in Schools, and the Chancery

Supporters of Shaela Evenson demonstrating last year

Disputes involving church workers and their Catholic employers have been on the rise the last several years as LGBT equality, particularly around marriage, spreads. Below, Bondings 2.0 provides updates for recent incidents about which we have reported previously.

Shaela Evenson

Shaela Evenson, a lesbian woman who was fired in 2014 for being pregnant outside of marriage, is suing the Diocese of Helena, Montana, and Butte Central Catholic High School in federal court for pregnancy discrimination, sex discrimination, and breach of contract, reported Crux. The case could hinge on whether Evenson, as a teacher, is considered a minister whose primary duties, in the language of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, “consist of engaging in church governance, supervising a religious order, or conducting religious, ritual, worship or instruction.”

Responding to Evenson’s lawsuit filed in federal court, the Diocese of Helena is claiming a ministerial exemption which excuses religious institutions from nondiscrimination laws.

The diocese’s claim is that Evenson is a minister because she led class in prayer and accompanied them during school Masses, though legal experts believe these activities do not justify the exemption.

Matthew Eledge

Matthew Eledge, who was told that he would not be re-hired next year at Skutt Catholic High School, Omaha, when he informed administrators that he planned to marry his boyfriend,  has taken a job at neighboring Millard North High School about which he is “thrilled,” reports KETV 7. Eledge continued:

” ‘I’m really proud to be a part of a school district that is sending a message to LGBTQ youth that tells them, “Hey, we’re proud of you, we accept you and we love you” ‘…

” ‘While the story may have elements of hurt and pain, I think that they’re completely overshadowed by the endless support…I do know that I get incredibly excited when I think about the future.’ “

Reports surfaced that teacher’s decision to marry his partner was an attempt to have his partner’s mother, diagnosed with stage 4 cancer, present at the ceremony.

Skutt students continued protests after Eledge’s contract was not renewed. About 100 students donned “I support Mr. Eledge” t-shirts at an annual fundraiser, sending the message that though he would not likely be hired back such discrimination is unwelcome in their school community. Nearly 100,000 people have signed the Change.org petition in support of Eledge, even while school administrators continue defending their actions according to The Huffington Post.

Tyler McCubbin

Many people have weighed in on the decision by Dowling Catholic High School, Des Moines, Iowa, to fire Tyler McCubbin, from school students to Iowa’s governor.

A Catholic student from another school protested McCubbin’s firing by writing to church officials and said, in a letter published anonymously by The New Civil Rights Movement:

“I am a Catholic thirteen year old and am currently an eighth grade student…I cannot even start to comprehend how you could dismiss (from what I understand from background knowledge and media) an excellent teacher and friend of some of the students, based off his sexual orientation in his own personal life…

“The last time I checked, the church’s motto was to accept and love everyone. This man was doing no wrong. My prayers and intentions are with the protesters, Tyler, and his future husband. You may want to think a little longer and harder next time so you don’t make another irrational decision. Does this truly agree with your conscience?”

DignityUSA’s Executive Director Marianne Duddy-Burke also condemned the firing in a letter to the editor published by the Des Moines Register. Admitting that Dowling is legally protected in firing a gay employee, she criticized church leaders on moral grounds:

“From the tremendous outpouring of support for Tyler McCubbin demonstrates that many Catholics understand that being gay and in a relationship should not be a barrier to serving as a Catholic school teacher — or in many other roles in our church. LGBT people can and do offer their talents and commitment to the church every day. Being truthful about our identities and relationships should not be a barrier to employment or volunteer ministry within our church. The majority of Catholics understand this. It is time for church leaders to catch up.”

Iowa Governor Terry Branstad, whose three children are Dowling alumni, defended the discriminatory firing while rejecting LGBT legal protections on religious liberty ground, reports KCCI 8.

Cincinnati Contracts

The Archdiocese of Cincinnati is revising controversial morality clauses implemented last year, specifically targeting teachers on a selected set of sexual ethics. Though most teachers signed the new contracts, some resigned, and there were widespread public protests against the anti-LGBT language.

The changes, announced by archdiocesan spokesperson Dan Andriacco, includie changing “public support” to “advocacy,” reports the Cincinnati Enquirer. This clarification, according to Andriacco, means a teacher could attend a gay child’s wedding or write a letter to their local politician, but not write a pro-marriage equality blog post — which is advocacy, in the archdiocese’s eyes.

These developments come as more positive news broke in Germany last week, with bishops in that nation announcing a labor policy protecting LGBT employees who enter same-gender partnerships from immediate firing or retribution. Yet, in the United States, the morality clauses controversy in San Francisco  continues, and the possibility of an LGBT employee of a Catholic institutions being fired is still high.

For Bondings 2.0‘s full coverage of this story, and other LGBT-related church worker disputes, click the ‘Employment Issues‘ category to the right or here. You can click here to find a full listing of the almost 50 incidents since 2008 where church workers have lost their jobs over LGBT identity, same-sex marriages, or public support for equality.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

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