Debate Forum Center: Columbus teacher dismissed by Catholic Church
In March, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in the U.S. v. Windsor case, which will decide whether the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is constitutional. The media reports and polling numbers surrounding the case revealed Americans are truly softening their stances on gay marriage, and the Court’s ruling could open wide the door for gay couples to wed. A lesser-known movement is the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) that seeks to make it illegal for an employer to discriminate based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Sponsors of this bill hope to ride the recent wave of public support for same-sex marriage and get this passed. The bill hit the Senate and House floor on April 25. Both the DOMA case and the ENDA legislation form a backdrop for the recent experience of Carla Hale of Columbus, Ohio.
For nearly 20 years, Carla Hale was a teacher at Bishop Watterson High School in Columbus. Back in March, an anonymous letter writer revealed to the Diocese of Columbus an obituary written by Hale about her recently deceased mother. In that obituary, Hale included the name of her same-sex partner. The school questioned her about the obituary and Hale told them what she wrote was true. Two weeks later, she was fired.
The Diocese of Columbus and the school say Hale was fired because her relationship violates moral laws of the Catholic Church. Supporters of the decision point to a contract drawn up by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Columbus and the Central Ohio Association of Catholic Educators stating teachers can be fired for violating codes of moral behavior. Supporters say it is fair to expect educators in Catholic schools to faithfully honor and follow Church doctrine. Further, morality-based firings have happened before in Ohio Catholic schools: In Cincinnati an assistant principal was fired for showing support for gay marriage in a blog post, and two other Ohio teachers were fired for becoming pregnant although they were not married.
Supporters have rallied to Hale’s defense and are critical of the decision by the Diocese of Columbus. Thousands of them, including many current and former students and alumni, have signed a petition supporting her reinstatement. Hale disagrees with the decision from the Diocese and maintains she always kept her private life to herself and never advocated her lifestyle or sexual orientation as a teacher. She since has filed a grievance and found legal counsel. If her plea for reinstatement falls short, she may have the law on her side because Columbus has a city ordinance that makes it illegal to discriminate based on sexual orientation.
So, Carla Hale sits and waits for a response to her grievance from the Diocese, and their actions will determine whether this story gets another chapter and more national media attention. In the end, the Catholic Diocese of Columbus defends their position by claiming Hale failed to uphold the code of morality expected from educators in their schools. Hale believes her situation is the result of discrimination that is unfair and maybe illegal, and she wants to return to her position at the school.
Debate Forum Question of the Week:
Carla Hale was fired from Bishop Watterson High School in Columbus after 19 years of service because she was discovered to be in a same-sex relationship. Her termination letter said that she violated the “moral laws of the Catholic Church,” and Ohio Catholic schools in the past have terminated educators who violated morality clauses. Under a Columbus city ordinance, however, an employee cannot be fired for his or her sexual orientation. Should Carla Hale be reinstated as a teacher Watterson High School, or should religious institutions be exempt from anti-discrimination laws on the grounds of religious liberty?
Debate Forum Left: End hypocrisy, reinstate Hale
Same sex marriage is still a pretty divisive issue, however, I think it is safe to assume that most people would not support discrimination and/or hypocrisy, which is exactly what Bishop Watterson High School and the Catholic Diocese of Columbus exhibited when they chose to fire Carla Hale after 19 years of service to the school. With all due respect to the Catholic faith, Hale pinpointed my argument with one question: “Where do you start and finish if you’re talking about immoral behavior within the Catholic Church?”
To fire Hale from a Catholic school based solely on her same-sex relationship that was only discovered 19 years after she was hired, because of an anonymous letter sent to the Catholic Diocese after Hale mentioned her partner’s name in her mother’s obituary, is wrong on many levels. Hale kept her personal life to herself. She did not share it with her colleagues or students, she was not advocating for gay rights or lecturing to her students about homosexuality and she certainly was not harming her students. To use a “moral clause” for justification to fire Hale, despite the fact that she never disrespected the teachings of the Catholic Church or acted “immorally” at her place of employment, is hypocritical. Hale was fired for being in a long-term relationship with a woman, yet many priests who have committed same-sex pedophilic sexual abuse get to stay in the Church, and the Church will cover for them. How does that abide by Catholic morality teachings? This double standard of protecting gay and straight pedophiles and sexual predators in the Church, but attacking anyone else for being in a consenting same-sex relationship, using birth control, getting divorced, having an intimate pre-marital relationship and many other legal acts is a double standard that is not in line with the Catholic religion and needs to be exposed at a greater level. The policy of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Columbus says, “Catholic school personnel are expected to be examples of moral behavior and professionalism,” which is understandable religious doctrine, but priests should be held to the same standard.
The brave members of The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) can attest to the double standard held by the Catholic Church. There are 10,000 members of SNAP, and that is just the amount of people who have enough courage to come forward and talk about their abuse. Considering that the number of people who are willing to come forward must be a small percentage of actual abuse cases, the number must be much greater than 10,000. Yet, we certainly have not heard of 10,000 cases of priests being excommunicated from the Church.
Firing Hale based on her private relationship is not only hypocritical, but is also in violation of a Columbus municipal ordinance. According to the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio, 29 Ohio cities and counties now have anti-discrimination ordinances. Columbus is one of 11 cities that fully protect individuals from discrimination in employment and housing based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The Columbus ordinance does not have any exemptions for religious organizations; however, the courts have allowed such exemptions before. Bishop Watterson High School is a religious institution inside the city of Columbus, it uses Columbus city water, utilities, fire department, police department and other services from the city, and it should not be above the law. How far will courts bend the law to protect religious liberty? There needs to be a stopping point when the law allows for discrimination and infringes on people’s rights based on their legal, personal choices.
As an alumnus of a Catholic university, I believe that Catholic teachings support kindness, love, tolerance and respect, not discrimination. The public is showing its support with over 90,500 change.org petition signatures to “Reinstate faculty member Carla Hale and apologize for discriminating against her on the basis of sexuality.” If you would like help to reinstate Hale, please go to the following website to sign the petition, change.org/petitions/diocese-of-columbus-reinstate-faculty-member-carla-hale.
Rana Odeh is a DCP Debate Forum freelance writer. She holds a BA in English and Philosophy from UD and is currently a graduate student in the ICP Program at Wright State University. Reach Rana at RanaOdeh@DaytonCityPaper.com or view her work at RanaOdeh.com.
Debate Forum Right: American rights of association
By Dave Westbrock
One of the most controversial areas these days is the question of rights versus responsibilities of various demographic groups. Questions include, “Do private organizations have the right to exclude those with whose lifestyle they may disapprove?” An auto dealer may fire a salesman who consistently recommends the customer may want to purchase a competing brand, or a private woman’s group may have an interest that by their nature excludes males. An example of this is the Le Leche League, which may exclude males due to the simple fact that men cannot have babies and breastfeed.
The controversy reached a high point when – several years ago – the Boy Scouts of America excluded gay scouts and gay scoutmasters. It was then stated that was against the Boy Scout creed, the basic concept of what it meant to be a Boy Scout. Aside from “fairness,” the question becomes whether or not it is proper, under the American system of free speech and free association, for a person to form a group of like-minded individuals for purposes other than pure economic ones; that is, for purposes that do not cause economic harm or special rights not granted by the Constitution. This controversy now includes not only free association, but some basic principles such as the marriage contract, which has for millennia been defined as one man and one woman and is now the subject of a Supreme Court hearing. Such controversy does not mean that a gay couple does not have a right to privately contract, but addresses the couples’ qualification for a legal marriage. This question is not one for any law court to decide, as it depends on the very cultural foundation upon which society is based.
These moral and ethical foundational principles included the structure of society, based on Judeo-Christian, Western civilization. Such foundation is naturally based on the fundamental societal unit, the family. Cultures developed since the founding include totalitarian governments that exclude the primacy of the individual, the relationship with a Creator and the rejection of the fundamentality of the family unit. The United States was formed by a coming together of states on the basis of the Declaration of Independence, “endowed by our Creator.”
As an extension of this founding principle, can we then extend the argument to whether or not a church or its affiliate have the “right “ to exclude a teacher with whom the teachings of the church are in opposition? Is it correct to allow a vendor of pork to sell his product at a Jewish or Muslim social event? Although this may seem trite, it parallels the same paradigm. A church or religious organization accepts that we are not perfect and that sins and shortcomings are part of human nature. In this case, the argument is not that the physical education teacher was gay, but that she did not see this as an exclusion from being part of an organization that does not recognize the morality of homosexuality. Should any religion accept every behavior as moral or mainstream just because it is extant in society? Are there no limits on what is acceptable based on current behavior? Most religions are noteworthy for consistency in doctrine. It is vitally important for the children and adolescents being raised in the culture of the church to model that set of principles.
Such discrimination does not equal hate for a segment of society with which a church may not agree. The Catholic Church preaches love thy neighbor, aside from behavior, but that does not mean it must support behavior that it does not condone.
Dr. Westbrock has been in private medical practice for 35 years. He was the Republican candidate for the U.S House of Representatives in 1994 and 1996. He has written and lectured extensively on the subject of health care reform and health care policy. He can be reached at Dave.Westbrock@daytoncitypaper.com