From the New York Times:
Part of the focus here and elsewhere appears to be online sharing of photos and personal opinions. A number of morality clauses in other dioceses express such concerns, specifying that teachers may not post anything on Facebook or Twitter that contradicts church teachings.
Archbishop Cordileone said that teachers who crossed doctrinal lines would be dealt with “on a case-by-case basis.” Asked if a teacher could post photos on Facebook of her gay son’s wedding, he said that “if someone was upset and reported it,” then “the person with the Facebook page would have to be talked to.”
So these “morality clauses” are being used to discipline, and even fire, employees who state the “wrong” opinions on their personal social media.1 There’s an ongoing problem in the US of employers using their power to chill and punish employees for their off-work speech, but I think this is the worse I’ve ever seen; not only are there thousands and thousands of employees being threatened this way, but they’re forced to sign “morality clauses” pre-emptively signing their right to free speech away.
(Couldn’t the employees just refuse to sign? Sure – as long as they can risk not having any income. In Oakland, three teachers were fired for declining to sign away their free speech rights.)
…last year, a dean of students at a Cincinnati Catholic high school was let go after supporting same-sex marriage on his private blog.
And a female gym teacher at a high school in the Columbus, Ohio, diocese was fired after publishing the name of her partner in an obituary column announcing her mother’s death. She sued and the diocese settled.
Could these people be any more open about their contempt for free speech and their desire to punish dissent? It’s like they think that by accepting a paycheck, their employees have signed away their entire lives.
After decades of gradual improvement, this problem has gotten worse in the last few years because of a Supreme Court decision. Jack Jenkins at ThinkProgress writes:
…the Archdiocese will likely defend the firing by claiming the so-called “ministerial exception,” an older legal framework that originally allowed religious institutions to have full control over who they hire and fire for ordained clerical positions. In 2012, however, the U.S. Supreme Court expanded the category to potentially include virtually any position a religious institution deems “ministerial” — irrespective of whether the job requires an employee to be ordained, such as a music director position.
This expansion has led to a rash of firings — and subsequent controversies — at Catholic institutions across the country, with LGBT schoolteachers and even food pantry workers being let go simply for publicizing their same-sex relationships.
The Supreme Court decision, Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church & School v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, seems reasonable on its face – the teachers really did seem to be partly ministers. They had a different job title than teachers who were secular employees, had to take extra training in religious instruction, and led prayers as part of their job. Why shouldn’t they be considered ministers for purposes of the ministerial exception?
Well, now we know why – because some Catholic institutions hate free speech and will eagerly leap through any possible loophole the Supreme Court creates. They’ve even been renaming already-existing teaching jobs (including those held by non-Catholics) “minister teachers” in order to be able to crush the free speech of their employees.
When employers use their power to police and punish employee’s off-work speech, what’s created is an environment in which only people who don’t need their paychecks to live can afford to speak out. But free speech shouldn’t be a luxury that only the well-off can afford.
One last point: It would be really nice to see the folks who have made a cottage industry of yelling “THE END OF FREE SPEECH!” when leftist students protest or Twitter bans someone for harassment, also expressing concern about people being told by employers to sign a loyalty oath and agree not to say anything the employer disagrees with.
I don’t expect that they will. But it would be nice.
Some related links (including links I used above), either about “morality clauses” or just about people being fired for being gay:
- This Man Is Fighting Back Against A Catholic Church That Fired Him For Being Openly Gay | ThinkProgress
- ‘Thou shalt not’: Catholic teachers challenge morality clause – CNN.com
- Cleveland Diocese adds detailed “morality clause” to high school teachers, too | cleveland.com
- Archbishop Cordileone of San Francisco Defends Changes – The New York Times
- Controversy over new morality clause for Catholic teachers in Oakland | KALW
- Cincinnati archdiocese alters the wording of morality clause for Catholic school teachers | News | LifeSite
- Yes, People Can Still Be Fired For Being Gay And This Teacher Was (VIDEO)
- Anti-gay harassment: Missouri man cannot sue for sexual orientation discrimination.
- Catholic Priest Claims He Was Fired for Pro-Gay Rights Facebook Post
- Photographer Fired For Being Pro-Marriage Equality Donates The Non-Refundable Deposit To GLAAD – The New Civil Rights Movement
- Parents Outraged Over Firing of Lesbian Teacher at Waldron Mercy Academy – G Philly
- Wake Forest Law Review – A Unique Religious Exemption From Antidiscrimination Laws in the Case of Gays? Putting the Call for Exemptions for Those Who Discriminate Against Married or Marrying Gays in Context
- When it comes to free speech, the anti-gay-marriage movement is much, much worse | Alas, a Blog
- Although this post focuses on the free speech issues, of course it goes further than that – these same Catholic employers are also trying to control other aspects of their employee’s private lives, and in particular their employees sex lives and who their employees marry. [↩]
- From the linked article: “What troubles opponents most is a passage that does not mention weddings; in fact, it does not limit what actions it would apply to. The passage would shield religious groups from being penalized for acting ‘in accordance with a sincere religious belief’ about same-sex marriage, and lists many things that could qualify as religious organizations, including schools, charities and retirement homes. Critics said that could mean denying married gay people housing, employment, social services and schooling. The Missouri law does not ban discrimination against gay or transgender people, but a handful of local ordinances do; the proposed amendment would supersede elements of those.” So much for the rights of local governments that conservatives say they believe in. [↩]