As the nation becomes less religious and more liberal on issues like gay marriage and premarital sex, some Catholic schools are grasping at straws by asking teachers to sign contracts with “morality clauses” in them.
The diocese in Oakland, California, for example, recently asked its teachers to sign a contract for next year that holds them, vaguely, to Catholic teachings outside the workplace.
The move has drawn protests from parents and students, and prompted some teachers to resign their posts over concerns about a lack of tolerance for gay colleagues or unwed couples living together.
Oakland Bishop Michael Barber has said he is not targeting gay teachers, but has been vague about what would constitute a violation of the contract. He told a diocese publication that a “public manifestation” on sites like Twitter or Facebook of a belief contrary to “Catholic morals” has “consequences on a teacher’s ability to fulfill their ministry as a role model in a Catholic school.”
That’s rather fuzzy, but some teachers are nervous that a Facebook posting in support of a gay pride event, for instance, could put them out of a job.
Some parents and donors have said they will pull their children and funding from the school if the clause is not dropped.
Teresa Ordonez expressed her frustration to KRON 4 News. “Thankfully my son is graduating, but yeah, I definitely would not allow my children to attend a school that is so backward thinking and so offensive to individual rights,” she said.
The outcry has resulted in a bit of a walk-back by Barber, who may ease the morality clause. How he plans to do that, though, remains unclear.
Oakland isn’t the only diocese toying with such a clause. The Archdiocese of Cincinnati recently revised its contract to forbid teachers from a series of actions, including sex outside of marriage and even in vitro fertilization.
"It is an embarrassment and a scandal, and will drive even more Catholics away from an institution so out of touch with its times," Robert Hague, who has taught high school English for 50 years and plans to leave because of the contract, told CNN.
Another teacher told CNN she is leaving her post as a first-grade instructor because her son is gay and the new contract opposes homosexuality.
Critics of the contracts say they appear to categorize teachers as ministers, which could make it more difficult for teachers to file discrimination lawsuits. A 2012 Supreme Court case gave religious schools significant latitude when it comes to hiring and firing teachers.
Still, courts have also ruled in favor of teachers. The Cincinnati Archdiocese was told to pay up last year after losing a lawsuit in which a computer teacher successfully sued after she was fired for becoming pregnant via in-vitro fertilization.
Even Pope Francis has said he is not in a position to judge gay people. But some dioceses seem to be reacting to such changing views by spelling out more restrictive contracts, not more inclusive ones.
The Human Rights Campaign recently sent a letter to the Vatican outlining their concerns and requesting a meeting with the Pope on behalf of teachers, from Hawaii to Georgia, who have refused to sign contracts with morality clauses.
“While Catholics are among the most welcoming and embracing of all people of faith,” they wrote, “the hierarchy is doing an incredible amount of damage by emotionlessly wielding discriminatory policies against faithful Catholics.”
Emily DeRuy is a Washington, D.C.-based associate editor, covering education, reproductive rights, and inequality. A San Francisco native, she enjoys Giants baseball and misses Philz terribly.