Round II: The LATimes ignores Supremes, covenant too

Round II: The LATimes ignores Supremes, covenant too August 3, 2013

There were quite a few logical journalistic questions to ask after my post about the teacher who was fired by a Catholic school in Glendora, Calif., after his very public same-sex marriage to his long-time partner.

Here are several of them in one reader comment:

Thin story … leaves out too many details and, perhaps, the school does not wish to harm the person’s teaching reputation — the one who just stuck them in the eye.

The Church (or this school, evidently) does NOT discriminate against homosexuals; they are accepted as are all people. However, when one decides to live a disordered life (publicly marries his partner), then this becomes a similar situation to a heterosexual who decides to “shack up” — it’s just not a good Catholic example to give impressionable young people. So, you have the good old “morals” clause.

It would seem like the teacher knew EXACTLY what he was doing. Might we expect this to be run up to the almighty (sometimes called “supreme”) court of this land as an “anti-discrimination” issue? We await with bated breath.

— James Stagg

The problem, of course, is that one of the major points made in my post was that the U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled — with a headline grabbing 9-0 vote, against the expressed wishes of the current Justice Department — that doctrinally defined churches and educational institutions have the right to hire and fire in ways that defend their teachings and religious traditions.

So were the journalists involved in this story simply unaware of this recent blast from the Supremes? Or, is the subtext here that the gay-rights theme in this developing story cancels out this basic religious-liberty, First Amendment reality?

Several readers mentioned another key issue: That this particular Catholic school may or may not have a doctrinal covenant that is signed by faculty, students, parents, etc.

I get that. I know that there are schools that are living in the legal past — legal in terms of state law and the desires of Rome — and don’t want to do that whole religious covenant thing. There are also plenty of Catholic educators who disagree with the teachings of their own church and do not want them enforced.

Well, then you have photos in the local newspaper and, well, you know. That’s bad. So the reality in the school hallways clashes with the reality that is the Catholic tradition. That’s hard to explain to any traditional Catholic parents and donors linked to your school. There’s a major news story in there, methinks.

But that story does not fit the template that is in operation in the coverage.

Some GetReligion readers may, in fact, have been thinking something else: That this was just a story from small local newspaper that didn’t really cut the mustard. Things would be different if it was covered by a major newsroom, one that would certainly include the crucial missing pieces of this news puzzle (as in the covenant issue and the U.S. Supreme Court decision).

So how about The Los Angeles Times?

As it turns out, the stories are almost identical, paragraph by paragraph, point by point. This can only mean that (a) the stories are being driven by the same source, as in the legal team for teacher Ken Bencomo, and activists supporting his cause and (b) that the Catholic leaders at the diocese or St. Lucy’s Priory High School do not, for some reason, want to make a strong public case for their actions.

Might that reason be that they expect to be carved up by the local press? Could be.

Read the whole Times report. Can you find a major difference from the earlier Sun version? Note the attributions in this crucial, totally one-sided slice of the story:

Officials at St. Lucy’s Priory had been aware of Bencomo’s sexual orientation for about 10 of the 17 years he was employed by the school, said Patrick McGarrigle, Bencomo’s attorney.

School officials specifically mentioned the wedding and the publicity it received during a meeting at which Bencomo was informed that he had been fired, McGarrigle said. Bencomo, through his attorney, declined to comment.

“Ken was one of the school’s star educators and the decision to terminate him because he lawfully married a man is just heartbreaking to him — it’s crushing,” McGarrigle said. “It shows a terrible error of judgment and complete disregard of Ken and what he has brought to the school.”

On multiple occasions over the year, McGarrigle said, Bencomo has introduced Persky as his partner to administrators at school events. …

“The school went to the draconian measure of firing him without warning and without legal reason,” he said. “They haven’t expressed any interest in finding a way for Ken to return.”

Then we have another quote from the printed statement from Catholic leaders.

“While the school does not discriminate against teachers or other school employees based on their private lifestyle choices, public displays of behavior that are directly contrary to church teachings are inconsistent with these values,” the statement reads. “These values are incorporated into the contractual obligations of each of our instructors and other employees.”

So, once again, we have zero references to the key element of the school’s possible legal defense — if in fact such a doctrinal covenant exists. If it does not exist, that fact is even more relevant to the story.

And, once again, we have zero references to the recent 9-0 U.S. Supreme Court decision about a religious school’s right to hire and fire in defense of its doctrines.

What were the editors of The Los Angeles Times thinking? Where is the other half of this important story?

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