Yo! NYPost! Did that school have a Catholic covenant?

This story is getting very, very familiar and it’s clear that these lawsuits are happening for a reason.

As The New York Post reports:

A prestigious Catholic high school booted a Bronx senior for being gay, the girl claims in a lawsuit.

Amanda Acevedo, 17, says in court papers that a homophobic administrator at Preston HS in Throggs Neck took exception to her bringing a girl as a date to a school dance and embarked on a two-year campaign of discrimination that culminated in her expulsion in September.

“Such a disgraceful act is proof positive of the fact that they got rid of my daughter because of her sexual orientation,” Acevedo’s dad, John, charges in the suit, filed against the private all-girls school in Bronx Supreme Court last month. “No other reason makes sense. Preston High gains nothing by expelling a traumatized gay child — except a sick sense of pleasure at getting rid of a gay child.”

It’s understandable that the girl’s father does not care whether or not this Catholic school was trying to defend centuries of Catholic teachings on sexuality.

However, The Post team doesn’t get the same exemption from asking basic, logical, journalistic questions about the legal (canon law and secular) tensions inside Catholic education circles today. Your GetReligionistas have seen this syndrome before, as shown here, here and here.

What’s the issue here? Freedom of association for starters, as well as religious liberty.

In previous posts on similar topics (and comments from informed readers), it has become clear that:

(a) Some Catholic schools, especially those attempting to recruit large numbers of non-Catholic students, do not ask students and parents to sign “lifestyle” or doctrinal covenants in which they pledge to affirm, or not to publicly oppose, Catholic teachings and traditions.

(b) Some Catholic schools, however, have created covenants of this kind for employees, as well as students and their parents.

(c) This pro-covenant trend may be on the rise, due to a growing awareness among bishops and Catholic educators that religious institutions that do not set clear doctrinal standards — standards for admissions, discipline cases and faculty hiring and firing — are creating a foggy legal environment in which it is easier to file precisely these kinds of lawsuits.

So do the members of the Post team even know that these issues exist?

It appears not. I also seems that the Post editors do not realize that private, religious schools — liberal as well as conservative — have the right to define their own community policies on matters clearly linked to doctrine. Liberals may want pro-gay speech codes. Conservatives may want to affirm centuries of Catholic teachings on sex and marriage. That’s the law.

However, religious educators have to articulate these teachings in public, making sure that parents know what they are getting into when their children enroll. There is a truth-in-advertising issue here.

So, did Preston High School leaders (a) have a covenant and (b) make it clear to Amanda’s parents that this covenant would be taken seriously? These are the kinds of questions that members of the Post team needed to be asking early and often.

Would the Preston leadership have answered?

Amanda was out of school for nearly three weeks before a judge issued a temporary order on Oct. 10 allowing her to return — for now. Preston is fighting to expel Amanda for good, and the case is due back in court Nov. 12.

“It just sucks because the punishment does not fit the crime,” Amanda said. “I wish it never happened. I don’t want to go through this at all.”

The school did not return a request for comment.

Not a good sign.

Of course, it is also possible that state privacy laws may forbid the private school’s leaders from defending their actions in a discipline case of this kind. That’s another question for reporters to ask. That is, if they actually want to cover this story.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • Jack

    All we know for sure is that this female student likes girls. It does not follow that she is sexually active with them. Does this school expel students who flount their heterosexuality? Or students who have heterosexual intercourse?

    • tmatt

      Don’t know. Also, this has nothing to do with the journalistic issue in my post. The story gives us NO INFO on school policies, including any covenant that the family may have voluntarily signed — which is my point.

      • Megan Ryan

        What does it matter if it’s your point or not? It’s still a valid question. Do all comments have to adhere to your narrow point? If so, then just turn them off.

        • Dennis Erford

          What does it matter if it is a valid question or not? If I go into a history class and ask a valid question about math, should I be upset that the teacher asks me to stay on the topic?

          He has the right to ask that comments adhere to the point he addresses. He would not need to turn off the comments if commenters would monitor themselves to see if they are on-task.

          All that being said, I do see the irony (and admittedly some hypocrisy) that my response was also not on-task, but take comfort that this fact is not important to you.

          • Megan Ryan

            Your example of history and math is not a valid comparison. History and math are not only two completely different topics, but two different subject areas. In this case, the original comment is entirely on topic, just not the narrow point of the topic the author wishes to discuss. An apt comparison would be a discussion of the Battle of Antietam and a question about the Emancipation Proclamation.

            I would argue the original comment is entirely relevant as this is a blog with the subject of Catholicism. I don’t know if you or the blog author are Catholics, as this blog seems to be about religious journalism in general, but the Church does not forbid “being gay”, it forbids “gay acts.” Whether or not the school had a covenant or not needs to be understood in the context of the girl’s behavior. Without that context, both the original story that the blog critiques and this blog itself are entirely pointless.

            So my example about Antietam and the Emancipation Proclamation is perfectly apt; you cannot understand one without the context of the other even if they may seem to be separate topics to someone who is unfamilair with the overall context which in this case is Catholicism.

          • FW Ken

            The author is not Catholic and this is not a Catholic blog. It’s a blog about religion journalism.

          • Megan Ryan

            I think that very much supports my point; perhaps, as the author doesn’t seem to know the context, this piece could have gone without being written just as could have the original article being critiqued.

      • xxawpantherxx

        I go to this school, we have no such doctrine. We’re an independent Catholic school, so we don’t follow the archdiocese or what have you. The problem is, we signed a contract to never get into a physical altercation; the punishment being expulsion. Amanda got expelled for fighting a girl, not being gay. Get your facts straight.

  • Y. A. Warren

    When religious organizations divorce themselves from public (taxpayer, “government”) funding, the churches can do what they wish, within the laws of the countries hosting them.

    • Joseph Heschmeyer

      Y.A. Warren,

      I respectfully disagree. And honestly, I don’t really understand the reasoning behind this whole “you take taxpayer money, so we own you” argument.

      Does this mean that any private company receiving any public funding/benefits (say, a Walmart that gets a public easement) is reduced to an arm of the State? That’s some important fine print, if that’s the case.

      In the case of a religious school, the state has (totally secular) reasons for directing funding that way: (A) there’s a state incentive for well-educated citizens (the ostensible aim of the public school system); and (B) in many cases, private or religious schools achieve these goals better. That’s the reason why Robert Wilson, an atheist, gave $22.5 million to the Archdiocese of New York’s Cardinal’s Scholarship Program, and it seems to be the reason for secular funding.

      All that said, it might well be true that it’s more prudent for private and religious schools not to accept public funding, if only to prevent the totalitarian impulse to use public funding as a coercive tool. But if that’s the case, the fault is squarely upon the state and those advocating using taxpayer money in this way.

      • tmatt

        Folks, your argument has nothing to do with the journalistic point of my post — the story doesn’t tell us ANYTHING about the policies or teachings of this school. That’s the problem.

        • Joseph Heschmeyer

          Good point – sorry!

  • Howard

    Do the subscribers and readers of the NY Post expect anything different? Of course tmatt does, because he holds high professional standards, but do those standards represent what drives readers to the NY Post? Does poor religion coverage lead to comments about the poor coverage? If not, is it because readers fail to recognize poor coverage, or because they expect the coverage to be tailored to bolster a certain world view?

  • Randy Gritter

    The trouble is they have a story in their heads before they even begin to investigate. The headline says a lot. Expelled for being gay? Really? She was just being? She was not doing anything? That is the narrative. Backwards religious folks can’t accept this teenager as she is. Why bother with the details? What more do you need to know?

  • xxawpantherxx

    What you failed to mention is that the school has a zero tolerance policy against fighting, and Amanda was caught fighting in the senior locker room and expelled shortly after. I go to this school and it’s drilled in our heads from day one that if we lay our hands on another student with the intent of harm, we are immediately expelled. If the school considered homosexuality worthy of expulsion, 1/6th of its population would expelled. C’mon, it’s an all girls school; there’s bisexuals and lesbians everywhere you turn. Last year, the student body president stated that she was lesbian in her speech where the whole school was in attendance, even a guest speaker. Did she get expelled? No. I openly express my sexuality, have I gotten expelled? No. Even Preston students aren’t backing this up, and we are a completely LGBT friendly community. Even if teachers don’t like our views, they don’t punish us for them. Seriously, get your facts straight. She got expelled for fighting, not being gay.

    • Thomas A. Szyszkiewicz

      In other words, the Post didn’t do its job investigating what really happened and what school policy really is. That, of course, was tmatt’s complaint in the first place. So you shouldn’t be chastising him for not getting his facts straight since he didn’t write the NY Post story which is what he was critiquing — you should be chastising the Post for failing to get the facts straight in the story it published.


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