Catholic schools

Don’t forget about the role of Catholicism in those ‘Back to School’ stories

Don’t forget about the role of Catholicism in those ‘Back to School’ stories

It’s back to school time. For much of the country, Labor Day officially signaled the end of those lazy summer beach days. Students of all ages across the country are again worried about grades and homework. For many, school began a few weeks ago.

In the Northeast, where most of the major news organizations are located, schools opens this week. That means readers are seeing lots of back-to-school stories.

These features typically range from the mundane (which notebooks are in style this year) to scary (involving enhanced security following a summer of mass shootings). There are also plenty of stories regarding the cost of books and supplies — something that seem to rise in cost each year.

In New York City, where I live, there are roughly 1.1 million students who attend public school when counting kindergarten through high school. Students who attend private schools and Charter ones make up about a quarter of the total number of the 1.24 million children who call one of the city’s five borough’s home.

That’s a significant part of the larger story. Yet Catholic schools — religious schools in general — are usually lost in the back-to-school news frenzy.

The bottom line: The Catholic church has done a lot for education in New York and indeed across the country and around the world. Catholic schools don’t get much coverage — in New York or elsewhere — unless the news involves clergy sex abuse.  

That’s unfortunate because Catholic education continues to be an important resource and major factor in the lives of so many families. As we approach the start of school, here are a few story ideas editors and education beat reporters should ponder:

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Hey CNN: Was a Catholic-school teacher in Indianapolis fired for 'being gay'? Period?

Hey CNN: Was a Catholic-school teacher in Indianapolis fired for 'being gay'? Period?

During my four decades or so in religion-beat work — as a reporter and then as a national columnist — I have covered or attempted to cover countless (trust me on that) stories linked to the lives of LGBTQ Catholics.

I also, in the early 1990s (after I had left the Rocky Mountain News) interviewed for a teaching post at a Jesuit university, where I was grilled about my support for many Catholic Catechism statements on sexuality (I was an evangelical Anglican at the time). I was told that I would threaten gay students and others in the campus community.

Through it all, I have learned one thing: It is impossible to stereotype the lives or beliefs of many, many gay Catholics. There is no such thing as an archetypal “gay Catholic.”

This brings me — I apologize, right up front — to yet another mainstream news report about Catholic schools, church doctrines, teacher contracts, doctrinal covenants and “gay” teachers. Yes, here we go again.

In this case, look at the overture in this CNN story, under this headline: “An Indiana teacher is suing his archdiocese, saying he was fired from a Catholic school for being gay.”

The key words, of course, are “fired … for being gay.” Here’s the top of this story:

A former Catholic school teacher is suing the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, saying that he was fired because of his sexual orientation.

Joshua Payne-Elliott had taught at Cathedral High School for 13 years. But despite renewing his contract in May, the school fired him a month later under the directive of the archdiocese, he says.

On Monday, Payne-Elliott's attorney announced a confidential settlement with Cathedral High School. His new lawsuit is against the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, which he says forced the high school to fire him.

The dispute between the archdiocese and Payne-Elliott, who is publicly named for the first time in the suit, is unusual because his husband is also a teacher at a Catholic high school in Indianapolis. His husband teaches at Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School, which was also asked by the archdiocese to fire their teacher after the same-sex marriage was made public in 2017 on social media. The Jesuits refused.

Fired “for being gay” then leads to the follow-up statement that this teacher was “fired because of his sexual orientation.” The key term is “orientation.”

Let’s stop and think about this for a second.

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Friday Five: 2020 politics, doctrine-defying Catholic teachers, Mormons in the news, Mongolia fundraiser

Friday Five: 2020 politics, doctrine-defying Catholic teachers, Mormons in the news, Mongolia fundraiser

Happy Fifth of July!

OK, that doesn’t have the same ring as “Happy Fourth of July!” But I’m too late for that.

I hope you enjoyed the Independence Day holiday. Perhaps you’re still celebrating it, if you have today off. That’s my plan, as soon as I finish this Friday Five post.

So let’s dive right into it:

1. Religion story of the week: The role of religion in the 2020 presidential race keeps making significant headlines.

In case you missed it because of the holiday, Richard Ostling wrote about Democratic candidates seeking a modernized faith formula that works.

Earlier in the week, Terry Mattingly reflected on this Trump-related question: “How many Democrats would back a pro-life Democrat?”

And this morning, Julia Duin posted on the battle at the border and evangelical leaders jostling for Trump-era media relevancy.

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Breaking news from Indy Star: Christian schools tout, um, Christian beliefs and behavior

Breaking news from Indy Star: Christian schools tout, um, Christian beliefs and behavior

Journalists have a real hard time reporting on certain subjects in an evenhanded manner.

Some that come to mind: Abortion. Religious liberty. School vouchers.

I first covered the voucher debate in 1999 as an education reporter for The Oklahoman, Oklahoma City's major daily.

I'm thinking about the voucher issue again after reading a recent Indianapolis Star that — especially in the headline and lede — seems to favors the opponents. But please tell me if I'm mistaken.

This is the headline that struck me the wrong way:

How taxpayers pay for religious education

And the overly negative lede:

At Colonial Christian, an Indianapolis school on the northeast side that receives public funds through Indiana’s private school voucher program, students are warned they can be kicked out of school for “promoting a homosexual lifestyle or alternative gender identity.”
At even more voucher-accepting schools, families are required to sign statements of faith as a condition of enrollment, affirming that they hold the same religious beliefs and values as the school.
Theology classes are required for four years at Bishop Chatard High School, as are hours performing service and outreach. And some schools, including Bethesda Christian in Brownsburg, require a recommendation by a pastor.
Those admissions standards reflect arguably the most controversial aspect of Indiana’s voucher program, also known as school choice scholarships. The GOP-driven program allows religious schools to receive public funds. At the same time, those private schools can reject students who don't affirm certain religious precepts — and impose religious requirements on those who are accepted.

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Oh no, not again: AP fails to ask school 'covenant' question in LGBTQ teacher case

Oh no, not again: AP fails to ask school 'covenant' question in LGBTQ teacher case

I know. I know.

Trust me, I know that your GetReligionistas keep making the same point over and over when digging into mainstream news coverage of LGBTQ teachers (or people in other staff positions) who, after making public declarations of their beliefs on sex and marriage, lose their jobs in doctrinally defined private schools.

We keep making the point over and over because it's a crucial question when covering these stories. When are reporters and editors going to start asking the crucial question?

The question, of course, is this: Had the person who was fired voluntarily signed an employee lifestyle (or doctrinal) covenant in which they promised to support (or at least not openly oppose) the teachings at the heart of the religious school's work?

So here we go again, this time in an Associated Press report -- as printed at Crux -- about another conflict in Charlotte:

A gay teacher sued a Roman Catholic school on Wednesday for firing him after he announced his wedding to a man, the latest in a series of legal fights over anti-discrimination protections for LGBT people.
The lawsuit argues Charlotte Catholic High School violated federal employment law by firing Lonnie Billard from a substitute teaching role in 2014 after a Facebook post about his wedding. While the lawsuit doesn’t invoke state law, it comes amid protracted litigation over a North Carolina law limiting protections for LGBT people.
Billard taught English and drama full time at the school for more than a decade, earning its Teacher of the Year award in 2012. He then transitioned to a role as a regular substitute teacher, typically working more than a dozen weeks per year, according to the lawsuit.

Let me stress, as always, that journalists do not have to agree with a religious school's doctrines -- in this case Catholic -- in order to accurately cover these stories. You just have to realize that many if not most private schools, both liberal and conservative, have these kinds of covenants defending the faith that they claim to represent in their work.

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On California college bill controversy, media drift toward one-sided reporting

On California college bill controversy, media drift toward one-sided reporting

Nice to see that we GetReligionistas aren’t the only ones who notice. When the Religion News Service churned out a story on bigoted, LGBT-hating Christian colleges -- seemingly an emerging mainstream media theme days -- a Faithful Reader alerted us along with a complaint:

RNS can’t be bothered, it seems, to actually interview an opponent of this bill, choosing instead to quote from an article on a conservative website and a statement of a state representative.

But RNS isn't alone: Other responsible media, such as the Catholic-oriented Crux, are doing much the same from the religious side.

First, the RNS article. In writing up a bill crawling through the California legislature that would yank federal aid from schools seen as discriminating against gays, RNS reaches out for a single direct quote -- from a gay activist.  The opposition? A conservative blogger and a Republican state senator -- their remarks lifted from written statements.

RNS says the state bill would apply Title IX -- a federal regulation forbidding sexual discrimination in schools -- to religious as well as secular schools. If it becomes law, the California stricture may well have national impact, the article explains:

While the law is seen by some as an attempt to get California religious schools to comply with the state laws that prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, it could have national implications. Human Rights Watch, which calls the Title IX religious exemption "a license to discriminate," reports there are 56 schools nationwide that have requested such exemptions, including Wheaton College, Liberty University and George Fox University.
Forty-two California colleges qualify for Title IX religious exemptions, according to the National Center for Law & Policy, a California-based Christian legal defense group. At least seven have applied, including Biola University, Simpson University and William Jessup University.

Well, gee, who could object to that? Only religious groups that have believed for centuries that homosexuality is sinful, as well as the schools they’ve founded. Our regular readers likely see parallels with the recent bad p.r. against Gordon College, an evangelical school near Boston.

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Shocker! Archbishop Cordileone attempts to defend Catholic Catechism in his schools

Shocker! Archbishop Cordileone attempts to defend Catholic Catechism in his schools

It’s a sign of the times that the idea of the Catholic archbishop of the nation’s most gay-friendly city standing his ground on sexual practice is front-page news. There’s been quite the media war going on this past month ever since Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone lowered the boom, making it clear how he expects teachers in Catholic high schools to behave.

First, some back story: The San Francisco Chronicle laid out his new requirements in a straightforward piece on Feb. 3:

The conservative Roman Catholic archbishop of San Francisco has developed a new document for Catholic high school faculty and staff clarifying that sex outside of marriage, homosexual relations, the viewing of pornography and masturbation are “gravely evil.”
Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone’s document applies to faculty and staff at four Catholic high schools: Riordan and Sacred Heart in San Francisco, Marin Catholic in Kentfield and Serra High School in San Mateo. It states that administrators, faculty and staff “affirm and believe” the controversial statements, which will be part of the faculty handbook.
The document goes on to say that marriage is between “one man and one woman,” despite California law allowing same-sex marriages. It also notes that sperm donation, the use of a surrogate and other forms of “artificial reproductive technology” are also gravely evil.
The document notes that while not all staff at the schools are Catholic, they are “required to stand as effective and visible professional participants and proponents of truly Catholic education.” Those who are not Catholic “must refrain” from participating in organizations that “advocate issues or causes contrary to the teachings of the church.”

Apparently this is news to some of the 317 teachers affected by this rule although you must wonder what planet they’ve been on to not know where the Catholic Church stands on these issues.

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Context, please: About the 'controversial statements' by San Francisco's 'conservative' archbishop

Context, please: About the 'controversial statements' by San Francisco's 'conservative' archbishop

Hold on for a wild ride because there's breaking news in San Francisco.

Believe it or not, the Roman Catholic archbishop of the City by the Bay is, apparently, Catholic. 

You read it here first. No, I'm kidding. The San Francisco Chronicle actually broke the news:

The conservative Roman Catholic archbishop of San Francisco has developed a new document for Catholic high school faculty and staff clarifying that sex outside of marriage, homosexual relations, the viewing of pornography and masturbation are “gravely evil.”
Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone’s document applies to faculty and staff at four Catholic high schools: Riordan and Sacred Heart in San Francisco, Marin Catholic in Kentfield and Serra High School in San Mateo. It states that administrators, faculty and staff “affirm and believe” the controversial statements, which will be part of the faculty handbook.

So right away, the Chronicle makes clear that Cordileone is both "conservative" and making "controversial statements." 

What makes the archbishop "conservative?" His "controversial" beliefs, apparently.

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Damage already done? Charlotte Observer replaces slanted report on gay substitute teacher let go by Catholic high school

Damage already done? Charlotte Observer replaces slanted report on gay substitute teacher let go by Catholic high school

The Charlotte Observer posted a "news story" on its local news page this week concerning Lonnie Billiard, a substitute teacher at a Catholic high school, who lost his job after revealing on Facebook that he plans to marry his same-sex partner later this year.

The Pew Research Center highlighted the story on its daily email roundup of U.S. religion headlines Tuesday.

This was the link:

http://www.charlotteobserver.com/2015/01/12/5443494/charlotte-catholic-fires-gay-teacher.html#.VLWWRWTF8YK

Over at "The Deacon's Bench," blogger Greg Kandra — a Roman Catholic deacon who spent three decades as a writer and producer for CBS News — criticized the piece:

Editorial note: the rest of the Observer piece is a weepy, hand-wringing, breast-beating portrait of a wronged employee who expresses anxiety for all the gay students who fear expulsion simply because they’re gay. It’s a sustained exercise in victim journalism, with fully half of it devoted to quotes by the teacher talking about how this hurt his feelings and that he “never expected to be treated so badly by the diocese.” (Did it ever occur to him that he had violated the terms of his employment? That question never comes up.) It’s a biased, unbalanced journalistic shambles, beginning with the lead sentence: “The local Roman Catholic diocese is in hot water again for anti-LGBT discrimination…”

For readers who looked closely, the story identified the writer not as an Observer staff member but as someone with QNotes. The Observer link did not explain what it QNotes is — perhaps Charlotte readers are expected to know — but a Google search reveals that it's "the Charlotte-based LGBT community newspaper of North Carolina." 

Thus, the story published on the Observer local news page fell squarely into what GetReligion calls "What is this?" As in, is this news? Is it a column? Is it advocacy? 

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