Sacrificing Profits to Avoid Discrimination and Protect Religious Freedom

April 14, 2015

For a person like myself who cherishes both religious freedom and LGBT equality, the recent discussions over state laws designed to allow religious people and institutions to discriminate against LGBT people are somewhat vexing.

Let me state outright that I do not believe laws should allow this type of discrimination.  That said, I have to admit that I feel sympathy for people who feel that their religious principles are compromised.   As someone who opposes the death penalty and military intervention on religious principles, I feel that my U.S. tax dollars are being used against my religious principles when a federal prisoner is executed or when our government has cavalierly become involved in overseas military expeditions.

A recent New York Times news article caught my eye and interest on this topic.  The headline: “To Keep Free of Federal Reins, Wyoming Catholic College Rejects Student Aid.”  A small, conservative Catholic school in Wyoming has rejected federal funding so that they do not have to comply with regulations on social issues which they disagree with because of their beliefs.  The story reported:

“Citing concerns about federal rules on birth control and same-sex marriage, the school decided this winter to join a handful of other religious colleges in refusing to participate in the federal student-aid programs that help about two-thirds of students afford college. For students here, the decision means no federal loans, work-study money or grants to finance their annual $28,000 tuition, which includes housing in gender-segregated dorms and three meals in the school’s lone dining hall.”

While, of course, I disagree with this institution’s beliefs about same-gender marriage, for one thing, I admit that I find this decision to be an intriguing answer to the current religious liberty question.

What has bothered me for a long time about conservative religious freedom advocates is that they often want it both ways.  They want to be able to have government aid or contracts, but not to live up to the obligations that come with such support.  So I have a certain amount of admiration for religious people who are willing to sacrifice something because of their beliefs.

This Wyoming decision reminds me of the many Catholic peace advocates that I have admired over the years who have resisted paying federal military taxes.  Sometimes such peace people keep a low income so that their federal tax obligation is minimal to nil. Sometimes, they have done jail time for their beliefs.  Until hearing of this Wyoming case (and the examples of several other religious colleges, Catholic ones included, which the Times article cites), I have not seen a similar interest in sacrificing for principle on the part of conservative religious individuals or groups.

At the business level, one way the religious freedom question plays out is that establishments such as photographers or bakers want the ability to deny service to same-gender couples’ weddings.  It seems that one recourse they can have to live out their religious principles is to refrain from not providing business services for any weddings.

The logic behind such a suggestion is that since same-gender marriage has become the law in many locations, it is incumbent on businesses licensed in a locale to provide services for all people. After all, the state is providing the business with the opportunity to exist within its borders; it is reasonable to expect that the business would follow the state’s laws, including non-discrimination laws. If, for religious reasons, a business does not feel they can follow the law of the land, they could simply refuse to provide that service to any one.

Of course, such a decision would involve sacrifice on their part. Weddings, in particular, are big money-makers.  Yet, abstaining and sacrificing are appropriate religious responses to situations where people are motivated by faith principles.  Discrimination is not.

Such decisions will not solve the religious freedom questions that our nation faces.  It doesn’t solve the problem of what to do about legitimately identified religious organizations (churches, for example) and how they conduct their employment policies.  But the route of sacrifice looks like it could be a viable alternative for conservative religious leaders who feel they are being harassed by doing business transactions which they feel violate their beliefs.

Another alternative would be what I do for issues like the death penalty and military intervention, for which I have religiously principled objections.  I follow the laws while I do what I can through civil channels to influence them.  Is my religious freedom impinged upon?  Yes, but I also recognize that we do not live under a religiously-based government, so I have to find the best way to be in dialogue with those with whom I disagree.  The strategy of dialogue is also a valid religious response.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 


Carla Hale Settles with Diocese of Columbus in Discriminatory Firing

August 17, 2013
Carla Hale

Carla Hale

Lesbian educator Carla Hale, who was fired from a Catholic high school earlier this year, has reached a settlement with the Diocese of Columbus. Hale will not return to her position as a physical education teacher and The Columbus Dispatch reports there were few details about the settlement:

“Carla Hale’s attorney and the diocese said in a joint statement yesterday that Hale will not return to Bishop Watterson High School ‘but will receive acknowledgement for her years of service.’ Neither Hale’s attorney nor the diocese would elaborate…

“Terms of the settlement, reached through private mediation, are confidential. Hale’s attorney, Thomas Tootle, would not say whether she will receive money…

“The agreement brings an end to all outstanding disputes between Hale and the diocese, including a complaint she filed with the Columbus Community Relations Commission under a city ordinance that makes it a misdemeanor for employers to discriminate based on sexual orientation, Tootle said.”

Hale was fired after her mother’s obituary included the name of the educator’s partner, sparking complaints from some Bishop Watterson High School parents. The ensuing controversy saw a Change.org petition gain 130,000 signatures in support of Hale, along with legal action and a social media campaign #halestorm. It also raised questions about civil law and church policy.

Even though the situation between Catholic leaders and Carla Hale is resolved, this incident causes many LGBT advocates in Ohio to reiterate the need for better laws. The Columbus Dispatch reports:

“Glen Skeen, president of the AFL-CIO’s Pride @ Work Ohio, said the group is pleased that the dignity of Hale’s work is being taken into consideration in some way.

“ ‘We will still continue to engage with the belief that LGBT folks are entitled to jobs and need to have access to the full range of jobs in the community,’ he said.

Elyzabeth Holford, executive director of Equality Ohio, an advocacy group for the LGBT community, said Hale’s firing highlights the need for statewide protections against job or housing discrimination based on sexual orientation.”

The trend in Catholic education of firing LGBT educators, or even heterosexual people who support equality,  is partially a byproduct of increased marriage rights.  As New Ways Ministry predicted over a year ago,, the more that marriage equality spreads, the more that we will witness these unjust firings in our church.   Amid celebrations, it is necessary for Catholics to continue advocating for employment protections in law that include sexual orientation and gender identity.

Bondings 2.0 has followed developments in this story since April, and you can read our coverage on Carla Hale below. For other incidents of Catholic educators being fired, visit the category ‘Schools & Youth’ on the right side of this page.

June 14, 2013: Administrator Affirms Anti-Lesbian Firing, As Support Continues to Grow for Carla Hale

May 20, 2013: Ohio Catholic Teachers’ Union Denies Support to Fired Lesbian Woman

May 8, 2013: Carla Hale’s Firing Raises Questions of Law and Church Policy

April 26, 2013: In the Wake of Discrimination, Carla Hale Hopes Students See Love and Support

April 24, 2013: Fired Lesbian Teacher Offers Hope Through Vulnerability

April 22, 2013: Support for Fired Lesbian Teacher Grows Rapidly As She Speaks Out

April 17, 2013: Lesbian Teacher Fired For Listing Her Partner’s Name In Her Mother’s Obituary

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Phoenix Diocese Opposes Non-Discrimination Expansion for LGBT Individuals

February 27, 2013

Mayor Greg Stanton of Phoenix, AZ

The Diocese of Phoenix publicly announced on Monday its opposition to proposed expansions in that city’s non-discrimination laws to include lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals under protected categories. On Tuesday, the Phoenix City Council approved the expansion in a 5-3 vote after a heated five-hour hearing that displayed the best and worst of Phoenicians, reported at AZcentral.com

A statement from the Diocese echoes the message that Catholic teaching opposes discrimination against LGBT individuals, but concerns over religious liberty lead the bishops to oppose basic civil protection. The statement was released to coincide with Phoenix City Council hearings yesterday afternoon on the proposed changes, with an expected vote that same day. LGBT advocates and supportive government officials do not seem to pay much attention to the Diocese’s remarks. AZcentral.com reports that a Catholic mayor is seeking LGBT non-discrimination protections:

“Mayor Greg Stanton has pushed to amend the ordinance to outlaw discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity or expression. City law currently offers few such protections for gay residents.

“Stanton, who is Catholic, said he respects the Diocese’s position but believes the city has an obligation to provide protections for LGBT residents. He added that welcoming diversity has economic benefits for the city.

“The changes would prohibit discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodations, such as restaurants and hotels. Businesses and individuals that don’t comply could be criminally prosecuted and face a misdemeanor charge, punishable by a $2,500 fine.”

It is hard to believe the bishops’ argument for religious liberty in the marriage equality debate when such arguments surface in any matter of advancing LGBT equality. The Diocese of Phoenix’s statement replaces Catholic understandings of human dignity with sexual ethics more appropriate to individual consciences and pastoral settings.  The statement puts any potential religious liberty conflict above protection of humans’ needs.

It is only a few generations removed from an era when Catholics, and the immigrant populations to which most belonged, suffered discrimination for their religious and ethnic identities. Legislation protecting individuals from discrimination based on anything, including sexual orientation or gender expression/identity, should always and everywhere be championed by the Catholic hierarchy. Persistent failures to endorse even the most basic LGBT-friendly legislation is isolating the bishops from fruitfully engaging on vital issues like poverty reduction and immigration reform where powerful Catholic voices for justice are sorely needed.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


CAMPUS CHRONICLES: Stonehill College Students Win Improved Non-Discrimination Statement

September 28, 2012

Students during the September 21st walkout

The Board of Trustees of Stonehill College, a  Catholic college in Easton, Massachusetts, approved a new non-discrimination statement last week that now lists sexual orientation among the protected categories.

In a release by President Mark Cregan, the Board’s decision was announced after consultation at their most recent meeting and with outside counsel. The new statement will read in part:

“Therefore, Stonehill College prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, gender, disability, age, marital status, religion, color, sexual orientation, or national origin in admission to, access to, treatment in or employment in its programs and activities, except where such conditions may constitute bona fide qualifications for the programs or activities in question.

“Nothing in this statement shall require Stonehill College to act in a manner contrary to the beliefs and teachings of the Catholic Church.”

Stonehill College is operated by the Congregation of the Holy Cross, the same religious community which operates the University of Notre Dame, Indiana, which is also debating a non-discrimination policy.

Students, faculty, and staff began advocating for the inclusion of sexual orientation in 1997 with the recognition of Stonehill’s first gay-straight alliance, PRIDE. Bondings 2.0 spoke yesterday with 2012 graduate Ashley Trebisacci, who wrote her thesis on the fifteen year movement.

Trebisacci detailed the multiple interactions students had with the college’s administration and Board of Trustees since 1997, and the responses students received that entailed a document called ‘Spirit of Inclusion’ in 1998 and several presentations to the Board.

In 2012, several Stonehill students began organizing again for sexual orientation in the non-discrimination policy and released their own ‘It Needs To Get Better Video’ coinciding with an online petition and alumni pressure.

The Taunton Daily Gazette reported student reactions to the new policy:

“For the students, the issue was always one of equality and fairness.

“‘I’ve never felt prouder to be a Stonehill student,”’said junior Kristen Bailey. ‘It was a great day.’”

Bondings 2.0 contacted the current student leadership about the Board’s decision. This most recent iteration of the ‘It Needs to Get Better’ movement continues today and is responsible, with the support of faculty, staff, and alumni, for this most recent victory.

Senior Amanda Macchi, one of the leaders, detailed September 21, 2012’s events. At 9:30am that day, over 185 members of the Stonehill Community staged a ‘walkout’ and went to Alumni Hall where the Board of Trustees was meeting in a show of solidarity and to reinforce that Stonehill cares deeply about this issue.

Supporters make their presence known to the Board

Macchi noted that the Board’s statement does not constitute a change in the College’s non-discrimination policy:

“It’s a non-discrimination statement that the Board of Trustees make and their statement influences and guides all the school’s policies. So when the policies come up they will be revised to add sexual orientation.

“We’re very excited. This is a huge step forward and we’re relishing in that. We’ll keep track of changing all the policies. The next step is to ensure that everyone is equal…to have further discussion about what this truly means and ensure everyone is protected.”

Sean Borger, a leader in the ‘It Needs To Get Better’ movement as well as an on-campus LGBTQ discussion group, spoke to the heart of Stonehill’s needs in the future:

“When I spoke with them [the discussion group] last year more generally on the campus climate, it wasn’t that they didn’t feel safe. They didn’t feel they could be open…My hope is that with this change in statement, which hopefully our campus policies will reflect eventually, they will feel more comfortable expressing themselves.”

The student leadership spoke warmly of the overall campus atmosphere for LGBT community, but remains committed to continuing the work of inclusion and safety. Ashley Trebisacci summarized this:

“Being at a Catholic college presents problems for LGBTQ students that they may not encounter at colleges that aren’t religiously affiliated.

“Overall, we are blessed with a progressive, caring, and open faculty and staff, which in both this campaign and in general makes it a great place to be. The group of students as well are great and now, in part because of this activism and other activism in the past, the groups on campus are much more engaged and passionate about what they do.”

New Ways Ministry congratulates the Stonehill College community, especially the student leadership behind this movement, for moving towards a more inclusive campus.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


NEWS NOTES: January 31, 2012

January 31, 2012

Here are some links to items you might find of interest:

1) The controversy surrounding the naming of anti-homophobia student groups in Ontario’s Catholic schools has added a new wrinkle with a Toronto Star report that the Province’s Education “College [is] asked to investigate principal who banned gay-straight alliance.”   Bondings 2.0’s  latest posting on this controversy can be accessed here.

2) The Washington Blade reports that “religious institutions receiving federal funds for housing programs will have to abide by a new HUD (Housing & Urban Development) rule prohibiting discrimination against LGBT people.”  Details can be found in the article “HUD: Religious groups must abide by LGBT non-bias rule.”
In a letter to President Obama, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops had opposed the non-discrimination rule. Equally Blessed, a Catholic coalition of LGBT justice and equality, also sent a letter to Obama in support of the rule.

3) The Buffalo News‘ Donn Esmonde writes how a “Priest’s legacy of tolerance is all-embracing.”  It’s an inspiring memoir about the late Msgr. William Schwinger of whom he writes:  “Back when society treated gays as incomplete people, long before anyone envisioned the state sanctioning gay marriage, this priest— despite the Catholic Church’s institutional condemnation of homosexuality— welcomed them into the fold.”

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


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