A Catholic school vs. a gay cafeteria manager: Why media are siding with him

Here we are again with a story line that seems to repeat itself at least once a month these days: Catholic school takes a firm stand on gay employees and decides to (1) tighten up their code of conduct or (2) actually ask certain employees to leave or (3) refuse to hire publicly homosexual employees.

The staff or students then decide to (1) sign petitions or stage demonstrations or (2) go to the media or maybe the local bishop and (3) file a lawsuit.

Reporters cover the would-be, present or former employees as sacrificial lambs ready to be roasted by the Inquisition. They (1) mostly quote one side, usually the more telegenic one that says they are being discriminated against and (2) fail to look up the school’s employee manual and any agreements employees voluntarily agreed to adhere to when they signed on and (3) insist that if Pope Francis was around, he would embrace everyone and (4) run a disapproving editorial on said college or school.

But the school that I’ll be covering in this piece is a bit different. As the Associated Press described it:

BOSTON -- An all-girls Catholic prep school in Massachusetts violated state anti-discrimination law by rescinding a job offer to a man in a same-sex marriage, a judge ruled.
Matthew Barrett was offered a job as Fontbonne Academy’s food services director in 2013, but the offer was withdrawn days later after he listed his husband as his emergency contact.
Barrett sued, alleging that the Milton school discriminated against him based on sexual orientation and gender. Norfolk Superior Court Judge Douglas Wilkins agreed, rejecting Fontbonne’s claim that hiring Barrett would infringe on its constitutional rights because it views his marriage to a man as incompatible with its religious mission.
The judge said Barrett’s duties as a food services director did not include presenting the teachings of the Catholic Church.

The story adds that the attorney for the school refused to return calls but did quote a lawyer for Matthew Barrett. I found the story on Crux’s website, which seemed a bit odd in that the Boston Globe had its own story elsewhere. (Crux is part of the Globe, for those of you new to this picture). The Globe said the judge’s decision was the first of its kind in the country; one reason why I chose to comment on this story.

While the Globe at least got quotes from one Catholic group supporting the school, it had quotes from four people that were against the school. That’s a bit uneven. Weren’t there any parents or students from the school who could have talked?

Most institutions like Fontbonne have standards for their employees that everyone is expected to adhere to. But when I searched the school’s website, I found only the most general stipulations.

In this day of a lawsuit seemingly every week against some Christian group by an aggrieved gay plaintiff, it seems unbelievably stupid for any religious institution not to have overhauled its bylaws way before this. As I pointed out in a recent story on Biola, an evangelical Protestant university in California, religious schools have known for some time they are going to be lawsuit bait unless they make it painstakingly clear that their mission is religious and here are the standards that everyone, from the provost to the janitor is expected to keep.

On Friday, the Washington Post ran a story on exactly this topic, listing the 56 colleges that are seeking exemptions from federal law prohibiting discrimination against gay or transgendered people. Here is the AP's version of the same story.

And these are the schools that had the foresight to talk with their lawyers. Fontbonne apparently didn't do this. That's an important hook in this story. And as the AP story pointed out:

The judge also found that a religious exemption to the state anti-discrimination law applies only if a religious organization limits admission to people of a certain religion. Fontbonne is open to students and employees of all faiths, with the exception of its administration and theology faculty.

The link on its website to the “all faiths” part is here and it does have an anti-discrimination statement on it, so I can understand why media reports are sympathetic to the would-be food services director. Am I right that this school didn't go to enough trouble to set clear standards for its employees before turning down this guy?

Here’s what the Advocate has done on the Fontbonne suit and here’s what the Cardinal Newman Society says in defense of the school.

This story and others like it are going to have legs for a long time, so scribes would do well to start boning up on the topic now.

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