There's a situation going on here in Columbus, Ohio that I've been following. Carla Hale is a 57-year-old woman who worked as a PE teacher/coach at Bishop Watterson High School in Columbus for nearly 20 years. When the school hired her, they knew she was a Methodist and not a Catholic; apparently, that was not a problem. By all reports, Hale was an excellent and beloved gym teacher who obeyed all school regulations while she was at work and kept her private life private. This past February, Ms. Hale's mother died, and the short obituary mentions that Ms. Hale has a partner named Julie.
An anonymous parent
sent the obituary to the school along with a note: "What are you going to do about this?"
In reaction to the anonymous letter, the school investigated Carla Hale's personal life to determine that she was in a long-term lesbian relationship ... and then fired her.
Columbus Bishop Frederick Campbell was apparently the main driver behind the firing; he said Hale was not fired for being a lesbian, but for having a "quasi-spousal relationship" with another woman. Which to my eye looks a lot like saying "Oh, she wasn't fired because she was literate -- we fired her because we found out she was reading books at home."
Bishop Campbell further claimed that the obituary "advertised" Ms. Hale's lesbian relationship. And ... no. It doesn't. I've worked in advertising and I'm pretty damn sure I know what an ad looks like. I had to read the obit three times to even spot the reference to Julie. Ms. Hale's partner's gender isn't specified in the obituary;
"Julie" could be a
man. Even if one assumes Julie is a female name, the obituary mentions
nothing at all about Ms. Hale's sexuality. For all we know, their
15-year relationship is chaste and they're in it for the
companionship. The obituary alone provides no concrete evidence of
anything concerning Ms. Hale's private life, nor does it tie Ms. Hale to
Ms. Hale filed a complaint, and a storm of controversy has ensued locally; the case has even been covered by The New York Times in an article titled "One School's Catholic Teaching".
Noder borgo has a daughter at the school. He says, "Anna is graduating from Watterson in a few days. If she wasn't already a senior, I and her mom decided we would have pulled her out. Given the circumstances, I think what the school is doing is appalling." For his take on things, please read April 22, 2013 and May 1, 2013.
I've posted several articles related to her firing on Facebook, and inevitably people criticize Hale ("Well, the Catholic church is evil, so what did she expect?") or defend the school ("The anonymous letter forced Bishop Campbell's hand! He didn't have any choice but to defend the school's moral code!")
I and others think the firing was utter bullshit for a variety of reasons.
1. It's a violation of Columbus city regulations to fire an employee for his or her sexual orientation.
"The Columbus Civil Rights Code Chapter 23.31 makes it illegal to discriminate against individuals in employment, housing and public accommodation because of race, color, religion, national origin, ancestry, sex or sexual orientation, age, disability, familial status, and gender identity or expression or to interfere with their civil rights." Yes, Ohio is an at-will state when it comes to hiring and firing, but the city ordinance is pretty clear on the matter, and it does not make an allowance for religious employers. It will be interesting to see how this plays out in court. People found violating the city ordinance can be fined up to $1,000 and/or jailed for up to 6 months.
2. Bishop Campbell didn't have to fire Hale in order to adhere to Catholic moral expectations.
Hale reportedly obeyed all rules at school; she never discussed her sexuality with anyone at the school, so exactly how policing her private life was necessary to protect the school's religious integrity is not clear to me. Catholic moral teachings, like all Christian teachings, are rooted in the Bible. And nowhere in the Bible does it prohibit two women from living together as life partners.
The Bible aside, modern-day American Catholic organizations are certainly not a united front opposed to GLBT people being able to live their lives. There are hundreds of gay/lesbian-friendly parishes across the nation. Other Catholic schools such as Seton Hill University have decided the best moral course for their institions is to be inclusive and fair, and they have prohibited discrimination against their students and staff for their sexual orientation and marital status. Clearly, the Vatican has not called in air strikes from Rome to burn these nondiscriminatory institutions to the ground or even tried to have their Catholic affiliation revoked.
So, Bishop Campbell was presented with an excellent opportunity to support the school's stated values of inclusivity, diversity and social justice (see #5 below). He could have issued a statement along the lines of "Ms. Hale is a valued employee, and in her time of sorrow, we ask that people respect her right to her privacy."
Or, he could have taken no action at all and simply ignored the letter, just as he's ignored the people who've protested her dismissal (see #3) and just as he's ignored reports of sexual misconduct amongst other school staff (see #4).
Instead he chose the most bigoted course of action possible. Short of burning Hale at the stake, of course, but he could reasonably expect that he would definitely get a visit from the authorities after that.
"But what about the children?" some might ask. "Sure, it's a bigoted and irrational thing to think that children will automatically be tainted by being in the mere presence of a lesbian ... but as a religious school they're entitled to keep all that weird adult stuff away from the kids!"
Yes, they are entitled to keep GLBT ideas and materials away from their students at school. But they aren't visibly doing that. In its guide for parents, the school proudly advertises many activity clubs for students, including a Human Rights Club, a Harry Potter Club, and an Anime Club. GLBT rights are a commonly-discussed human rights issue. The headmaster in the Harry Potter series is gay. And many characters in anime are GLBT. So, apparently the school doesn't consider the mere exposure of students to the ideas that GLBT folk, you know, exist and have lives and such to be morally compromising.
3. Bishop Campbell's actions harmed the school and broke the school's honor code.
Even if the Bishop searched his heart, asked himself "What would Jesus do?" and decided that the course of action that best displayed all Christian moral values such as grace, compassion and forgiveness was to kick a loyal, quality employee who was grieving for her mother right to the curb ... he didn't actually have to fire her. All he and the other school administrators had to do was to wait until the end of the school year and simply not renew her contract. They wouldn't even have to give a reason.
But they actively fired her, and gave their bigoted reason in writing, right in the middle of a city with an active GLBT community. And that was a thunderously stupid public relations move right from the start. Since then, Bishop Campbell has largely left the school to take all the heat for his decision and has refused to talk to most reporters. The school has received threats, and has attracted the attention of the Anonymous hacking group. One parent reported that he was assaulted when he tried to take the Bishop to task for his failure to defend the school from the media onslaught and public outcry.
While Bishop Campbell felt compelled to respond to a single anonymous letter, he has not given similar consideration to the hundred-plus students and parents who have protested the firing. Others have pointed out that the diocese may have really damaged itself in the long term, because the kids who are in the school now and who have seen the bigotry against one of their favorite teachers might be far less likely to support the school and diocese financially once they're adults.
The school's handbook states: "Any act that would bring shame or disgrace or hurt the reputation of our community as a Catholic school is considered a violation of the honor code." Arguably the Bishop's actions have brought shame to the school because he has made them look like bigots and hypocrites who don't follow their own lofty ideals about diversity, acceptance and human dignity (see #5).
4. The school has not held other employees to the same standard and has ignored heterosexual misconduct.
There has been no report that the school has pried into the personal lives of its heterosexual lay staff to check to make sure that they aren't engaging in activities that the Catholic Church frowns upon, such as using birth control, adultery, or engaging in premarital sex.
borgo reports that a rumor recently spread that a heterosexual staff member was engaged in an extramarital affair -- one that could materially affect the school and the staff member's job performance if proven true -- but the school utterly ignored the rumors.
Hale has been visibly singled out because of her sexual orientation. I wouldn't be in favor of any employer, religious or otherwise, being able to pry into its employees' personal lives, and such prying would seem to violate the school's ideals concerning human dignity ... but at least in this instance it would be a sign that the school was meting out consistent treatment to its staff. And it isn't.
5. The firing violates the spirit of the school's own handbook.
From the the school handbook:
Motivated by love of God and love for our students, we have done our best to make the rules and policies of Bishop Watterson High School fair, reasonable, and just. ... May we become more inclusive, more open to the individual, more willing to reach out to others, especially those within our Bishop Watterson community, and make this school a happy and rewarding one for all.
Catholic social teaching calls us to recognize the dignity of the human person. The Bishop Watterson community strives to provide an environment which values diversity, acceptance, justice and reconciliation as foundational elements. All persons are entitled to a safe and secure environment that fosters healthy physical, emotional and spiritual well-being.
Nothing about Carla Hale's dismissal seems to fit with those stated ideals. Nothing.
Their handbook statements also address the "Well, what did she expect?" argument I've heard; clearly, the school is presenting itself to the world as being a place of love and inclusion rather than hatred and exclusion, so Hale should be forgiven if she didn't expect her own school to suddenly turn against her after two decades of good service to it. Especially when heterosexual hijinks seemingly get a pass there.
6. Carla Hale is not Catholic, and she is entitled to her own religious freedom away from the school.
The school knew Hale was Methodist when they hired her, so presumably they were fine with her adhering to her own church's teachings. There are a considerable number of Methodist churches in the U.S. that welcome and support GLBT worshippers. There are at least 8 here in Columbus that welcome GLBT folks, and some of these churches sanctify same-sex unions.
Expecting a non-Catholic to live by diocese-specific standards away from her job in her private life is unfair. My ex-Catholic husband worked for a Jewish temple; many Jews find the eating of pork products to be downright vile. Despite this, my husband was not expected to abstain from eating ham at home, and he certainly wouldn't have been fired for being seen eating sausage at Bob Evans. Why? Because the temple rightly realized that what my husband did away from the temple wasn't its damn business.
I question the validity any kind of morals clause that dictates how a lay employee has to live, but I especially doubt one issued by a Christian church that prohibits lawful behavior that other Christian churches in the same city embrace.
As a person who lives and works in Columbus, I want this to be a place where all employers are required to treat their employees fairly and are not allowed to intrude into (or dismiss us based on) aspects of our personal lives that have nothing to do with our jobs.
As an educator, I want to see that all schools are required to accurately present their academic environment and educational services. Bishop Watterson either needs to bring their actions in line with their handbook statements, or they need to edit the handbook to make it clear that they are actively biased against GLBT people (eg, "we have done our best to make the rules and policies of Bishop Watterson High School fair, reasonable, and just, except for gays and lesbians, who should burn in hell.") Otherwise, they are falsely advertising themselves to the Columbus community.