We’re used to thinking of religious freedom as an individual right—my freedom of conscience to believe and practice as I choose. But as the continuing debate over the HHS mandate demonstrates, freedom of religion under the First Amendment also guarantees the rights of religious institutions. When those freedoms collide, what gives?
In the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, for which I perform occasional work as an independent contractor, the cases of two dismissed Catholic school employees are in the news this week.
Purcell Marian High School Assistant Principal Mike Moroski was placed on administrative leave on February 4, after refusing to remove a January 27 post on his personal website that said:
I unabashedly believe that gay people SHOULD be allowed to marry. Ethically, morally and legally I believe this. I spend a lot of my life trying to live as a Christian example of love for others, and my formation at Catholic grade school, high school, 3 Catholic Universities and employment at 2 Catholic high schools has informed my conscience to believe that gay marriage is NOT something of which to be afraid.
In other news, a trial date was set this week in federal court for a civil rights lawsuit against the Archdiocese of Cincinnati by Christa Dias, a computer teacher at two Cincinnati Catholic elementary schools who was terminated in 2010 after telling students and administrators she was single and pregnant by artificial insemination, and was seeking maternity leave.
The Archdiocese, as is proper while litigation is ongoing or being contemplated, is not speaking in detail on either case. But the media and the comboxes are saying plenty.
PURCELL MARIAN TEACHER UNDER FIRE FOR OPINIONS ON GAY MARRIAGE, reads the Cincinnati Enquirer headline. ASSISTANT PRINCIPAL AT CATHOLIC HIGH SCHOOL CHOOSES MARRIAGE EQUALITY OVER JOB, trumpets Queerty.
TEACHER FIRED FOR GETTING PREGNANT ‘THE WRONG WAY’ is one of many similar web post headings in the Christa Dias case. CHRISTA DIAS, MOTHER, FIRED FROM CATHOLIC SCHOOLS FOR USING ARTIFICIAL INSEMINATION, says HuffPost.
In both cases, the headlines are incorrect. Mike Moroski was not fired for expressing a personal opinion. Christa Dias was not fired for becoming pregnant. Both had their employment terminated for simple breach of contract.
Catholic schools employees in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati sign a contract agreeing that they will “comply with and act consistently in accordance with the stated philosophy and teachings of the Roman Catholic Church.” That’s not “the stated philosophy and teachings of the Roman Catholic Church that I accept, or as I interpret them.” There’s no clause that adds “except on my own time”—because the stated philosophy and teachings of the Roman Catholic Church guide all of life, 24/7. This contract, willingly signed by both Mr Moroski and Ms Dias, does not require that employees be members of the Catholic faith—Ms Dias is not; Mr Moroski, with 16+ years of Catholic education, says he “believes in Catholicism”—but it does require that employees live by Catholic moral teachings and exemplify them for their students.
I can understand the difficulty many people have with the particular teachings involved in these cases, both of which are rooted in Catholic belief in the God-given purposes of sexuality, marriage, and parenting. The Church does not accept or approve of gay marriage because, for Catholics, it’s an impossibility: marriage, a sacrament, can only be contracted between a man and a woman. Artificial insemination (as well as pregnancy outside marriage) runs counter to Church teachings that children are to be conceived within the physical, emotional, and spiritual union of a marriage between a woman and a man. These teachings are not about rights or equality; they aren’t rooted in hatred of homosexuals or the shaming of women. But I can see we have a long way to go before we speak that truth in ways people outside the Church can even vaguely comprehend.
Not to mention people inside the Church. I know the arguments. Yes, it’s true that these, like many of the Church’s teachings, may be more honored in the breach than in the keeping. But Catholic teaching, in spite of the best efforts and highest hopes of the media and many Catholics, is not driven by majority rule or by opinion polls.
It’s not about rights, either. A federal judge allowed Ms Dias’s suit to go forward based on her claim of gender discrimination—that she is being punished because, as a woman, her use of IVF is apparent, whereas a male teacher whose wife or partner conceived through IVF would not be so apparent. Mr Moroski claims his belief in the equal rights of all people is a higher authority than the teachings of the Church, and it would be a violation of his right to freedom of conscience to recant that belief. The thing is, neither Ms Dias not Mr Moroski was terminated for what they did or what they believe, but for upholding those actions and beliefs, which run counter to Church teachings, in the public forum.
The judge in Ms Dias’s case said the Archdiocesan contract did not bind Ms Dias because she is not a Catholic and did not teach religion—the typically narrow definition of the religious freedom of the institutional employer. Mr Moroski’s fellow teachers and students bemoan the loss of this popular administrator, who had a gift for working with teens, simply because he expressed an opinion on his private web page.
But it’s not simple. Had Ms Dias arranged her pregnancy for off-school time, and not both requested maternity leave and encouraged her young students’ plan to throw a baby shower for her (encouragement that included telling them she wasn’t married and had been artificially inseminated), she might have been as unnoticed as a man in similar circumstances. She made a choice to violate her employment contract. Had Mr Moroski, whose website is hardly “private” (he’s using it as a platform to launch a political career), refrained from posting his comments, or provided the disclaimer requested by the Purcell Marian administration, he might have gone on with what has seemed, up to now, to be a stellar career in Catholic education. He made a choice to violate his contract.
Both Ms Dias and Mr Moloski claim that their individual wants and needs and opinions supersede the rights of Cincinnati Catholic Schools to provide students with teachers and administrators who embody Catholicism and its values.
“I’ve always wanted to have a baby,” Dias told the publication [the Cincinnati Enquirer]. “I’ve always known that. That’s why I became a teacher, because I love kids. I didn’t think it would be a problem.”
Moroski said he “knew the statement I was making was not in accordance with Roman Catholic beliefs,” but he does not think he violated the contract because he was following his conscience.
Maybe if it weren’t the Church, the Blue Meanie of the Western World, that were doing the firing, people might see it differently. Suppose an assistant director of PETA wrote on her “personal website” that there was nothing wrong with wearing fur, and that we should stop being afraid of animal testing? Suppose a teacher in an Orthodox Jewish shul brought bacon-wrapped shrimp to a class party, and sent the kids home with goodie bags full of ham and cheese sandwiches? Suppose a board member of the Susan G Komen Foundation took issue with diverting cancer prevention funds to Planned Parenthood abortion clinics? (Oh, wait, we don’t have to suppose that one.)
Employers have the right to protect the mission of their organizations. Catholic schools exist to promote Catholic teaching and values, not only in religion classes but all day long and wherever and whenever their employees interact publicly. And there is no unlimited employee freedom, no matter what the situation: when you enter into a contractual relationship with an employer, you surrender (at the minimum) your right to show up whenever you feel like it, to wear whatever you please, to make public statements dissing your employer’s mission or telling your boss she’s nuts. In return, you are compensated for performing stated responsibilities, which Ms Dias and Mr Moloski, IMHO, failed to do.
I’m not a lawyer, or a spokesperson for the Archdiocese of Cincinnati. I don’t always understand the teachings of the Church myself, and I’m not going to get into combox apologetics in their defense. But in these two cases, I think, neither plaintiff has a moral leg to stand on. Those children in Ms Dias’s computer classes, those teens with whom Mr Moloski has such a good rapport? They’re the losers here. They deserved better Catholic educators in their Catholic schools. And it’s with them, ultimately, that Ms Dias and Mr Moloski breached a contract and broke faith.