A Massachusetts state court has held that a Catholic school cannot decide whom to hire or fire based on the school’s religious beliefs regarding homosexual conduct and court-created same-sex marriage. While courts have for some time issued decisions which infringe more and more on private religious institutions’ autonomy, we are now seeing the rising tide of infringement of religious beliefs regarding same-sex conduct. Prepare for the deluge.
Predictably, the court flatly rejected the school’s claim to be able to hire based on its core religious beliefs. The Massachusetts employment statute at issue did contain a religious exemption, but the court read it narrowly, and held that Fontbonne Academy did not fall under the exemption. Thus, the school was bound by the statute’s provisions prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, which the court easily found to have been violated.
One portion of the opinion is particularly revealing. The court observed that the school did not require prospective employees to hold to Catholic beliefs except for some positions -- the position at issue here not included. Yet the court acknowledged that the school asked the employee here if he could “buy into” being a “minister of the mission” of the school -- which included promoting the school’s religious beliefs, as required of all employees. He said he could!
Aside from brushing past this misrepresentation (the employee could not “buy into” a mission when his own life contradicted some of its core moral tenets), the court misses the point that the mission the employee was asked to promote, which includes the Christian teaching on marriage, and the understanding that homosexual conduct is wrong -- is required of Catholic and other traditions within Christianity (and, indeed, other religions entirely). The court jumps through hoops to construe the statute in a way that avoids recognizing this is the exact type of religious mission that religious employment exemptions are meant to protect. The court similarly engaged in logical and legal contortions to dismiss the school’s other claims.
This decision is very problematic for religious liberty. Hopefully the school will appeal.