Should Religious Liberty Be Used As An Excuse To Hurt People?

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image of Bishop Frederick Campbell leader of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Columbus Ohio
Bishop Frederick Campbell leader of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Columbus Ohio

The major conflict in human rights is to balance the rights of all people. You can do whatever you want with your life as long as that action doesn’t hurt others (physically or mentally) and conforms with restrictions from current laws. The basic precept is your rights stop at your neighbors door step. In church and state issues the challenge is to balance religious freedom with the rights set in the US Bill of Rights. In the case of a veteran teacher fired from a Catholic school because it became public she had a same-sex spouse, how far does religious liberty extend.

Physical education teacher Carla Hale, 57, was fired in March after her name appeared in her mother’s obituary, which also noted Hale’s longtime lesbian partner.

Hale was summoned to a meeting with school administrators after she returned from her mother’s funeral.

At the meeting, she received a copy of her mother’s obituary that she and her brother had written. In addition, administrators gave Hale an anonymous letter from a parent calling the presence of a lesbian teacher at the school disgrace.

Hale was subsequently dismissed from Bishop Watterson Catholic High School after 19 years of service, with the school citing a morality provision in the contract between teachers and the diocese.

Fired lesbian teacher fights to get job at Catholic high school back

There was a backlash both from the community and from students and alumni of the High School. Yesterday Bishop Frederick Campbell, who leads the Roman Catholic Diocese of Columbus, made some comments:

Campbell said earlier in the day that Hale was not fired because of her sexual orientation but because her “quasi-spousal relationship” with another woman violates the church’s moral teaching. He said Hale violated a teacher contract and Roman Catholic Diocese of Columbus policy that prohibits immoral behavior and requires employees to follow general church tenets.

In an exclusive interview with The Dispatch, the bishop said diocesan officials “don’t necessarily go looking for things like that,” but Hale’s decision to name her partner in her mother’s obituary made the relationship public and initiated the termination process.

As bishop, he said, he has a “fundamental responsibility” to maintain the Catholic identity of the institutions under his purview.

“We do this in an atmosphere of care, of calm consideration, but yet out of the realization that at particular times we have to make particular decisions,” he said. “And they are difficult sometimes, but they do flow from what we believe, who we are and how we are to live.”

Firing of gay teacher necessary to maintain ‘integrity of our faith,’ Catholic bishop says

Bishop Campbell may believe he is protecting the “Catholic faith” but I see a lack of sincerity. While the Church teachings say homosexuality is wrong, Hale was fired for being outed in her mother’s obituary. I guess the Church was operating on a “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” basis. As the article with the Bishop’s comments points out how many teachers have been fired who got a divorce, who use contraceptives, or have had sex before marriage? If they give some actual numbers then maybe we might accept what Bishop Campbell is saying.

There is an attempt to support the Church’s action. One online petition has as its text:

To: Bishop Frederick Campbell and the Diocese of Columbus

Stand up for religious liberty and the gospel of Jesus Christ

People think that a church should have the right to fire LBTQ employees under religious liberty?

Religious conservatives throw out “religious liberty” whenever they get bad publicity about something they do that has or will hurt other people. Does an action that hurts people get a pass just because a particular religion says it is part of its teaching?

We know that isn’t the case. Just like freedom of speech is restricted to time, manner, and place some religious beliefs are illegal such as having multiple wives.

You don’t get the cover of religious liberty to be a bigot. Typically religious people will cherry pick what teachings they will follow all the time and even Catholicism doesn’t teach believers to be bigots.

I feel bad for Carla Hale. No one should be treated as she was but on the other hand the Church’s position on homosexuality is not new and there was a contract. Hale’s obligation, if she knew homosexuality was against the Church, was not to take a job in a Catholic school or resign. The Church does have a right to employ people who follow their beliefs. If it had been a private commercial employer or public employer she would have a better chance of getting her job back but since it is a church the chance is little to none.

This is why we need comprehensive laws to protect LGBTQ employees so that this kind of thing doesn’t happen to anyone no matter where they work or what religious beliefs they have or not.

But won’t Churches be exempt? Not necessarily. There are laws against animal sacrifices yet you can still read about them in the Holy Bible (check out Deuteronomy 12:27 for an example) so Churches can adapt.

The important thing is when religious freedom and our civil rights are in conflict the religion needs to yield.


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