Wednesday, November 17, 2010

I received a fascinating email first thing this morning from the president of my alma matter. Although I am not Catholic, I am a proud graduate of a local Catholic university. I wanted to share this with you because it provided some fascinating food for thought.

Here's the situation:

The director of the Teacher's Education Program is a lesbian. It wasn't a surprise; she was director before Benedictine took over the local college (although the local college was Catholic as well -- Ursuline in fact). The university has a policy similar to the military's don't-ask-don't-tell: she was expected to endorse 1) General teaching best practices and 2) Catholic worldview while at work.

The dilemma arose when she and her partner went to Iowa over the summer and get married. Then, they came home and put a wedding announcement in several of the local papers. In the announcement, she stated her place of employment -- this Catholic university -- by name. As a result, this woman lost her job at the university, not for her sexual orientation but for defaming the university's religious reputation and not withholding her employment contract. She is currently procuring a lawyer to sue on discrimination charges.

All I know about the situation is from the newspapers and the President's letter. It appears that both parties did some things incorrectly; I don't want to discuss that. I also don't want to discuss whether homosexuality is right or wrong. What I do want to present to you is a few quotes from the President's letter about the concept of discrimination.

The following quotes are from the President's letter (link to the whole):

When an individual steps outside this teaching (about traditional marriage) and publicly announces that he/she is living a lifestyle in total opposition to what the Catholic Church and one of its universities hold dear, that decision represents a lifestyle choice that he/she is free to make. But if the person holds a position that represents the Catholic Church, there is conflict… For instance, if you wanted to be an officer of an environmental group that premised its mission on the reality of global warming, you would expect that your fellow members would hold you to advocating that doctrine and not give speeches claiming that the phenomenon is a chimera. If you came to believe differently, the responsible thing would be to leave the organization.

[When interviewing] I make a simple statement to the candidate, something to the effect: “XYZ is a Catholic and Benedictine university with a set of beliefs and traditions. No matter your religious background or affiliation, you are expected to respect and honor this tradition and set of beliefs. Can you accept that?”

If a person does not ascribe to the belief system held by the Church, a Catholic institution may not the be appropriate place for that individual to work. The blessing of America provides a patchwork of many kinds of institutions of higher learning. Where one’s belief system may put them outside the orbit of one institution, there is surely another to find a better fit.

So, what do you think? Did she face discrimination when she was fired? Or is it something else? Is the fault with her, either by misunderstanding or willfully breaking the assumptions of her employment? What are the rights of private -- especially private and religious -- institutions when it comes to social causes? What should they be?

PS: This is a complex situation -- just a loving reminder to choose your words carefully and politely! However, I would LOVE to hear views on all sides of this dilemma (Erika, this means you!)


erikaphelps said...

Ah, yes, challenging indeed. I can't respond right now because I'm pretty busy these next several days, but I'll mull it over! It is particularly interesting because I was a student of and friend to a Baptist professor at Earlham (a Quaker institution) who openly disagreed with many core Quaker beliefs. I may also consult a member of my Quaker meeting who is a professor at a Baptist college in Tennessee and has had some challenging times there.

Sarah Jane said...

I don't think she is being discriminated against. I assume she understood that she had to keep personal business personal and not openly flaunt her sexual orientation at work.

If she had simply posted a wedding annoucement and had not mentioned her place of work, it would not have been a big deal, would it? But because she is linking herself to the Catholic church and is at the same time openly defying their beliefs on homosexuality, it seems like a 2 year old child doing something wrong to see how far they are able to go before they get punished.

It would not have been a big deal to leave out the fact she works for a Catholic organization. That would have been respectful of her, and the organization would have respected that about her, and I think nothing would have come of this.

Whatever someone's personal beliefs are, often compromise and respect is necessary if you are working with others of different beliefs. The Catholic University compromised and respected her as a person by not making an issue of the fact of her homosexuality, as long as she kept that private and personal.

She did not treat them with the same compromise or respect, it seems, from what I've been able to gather and assume.

I think it's her own fault. I think she knew what she was doing when she chose to put that information in her wedding annoucment.

Amy said...

I'm with Sarah - I don't believe she was discriminated against. It would have been different had she left her employer out of it; as it stands, though, she is representing the Catholic Church.