Freedom of Religion

In Virginia Firing Case, Principles Collide

St. Francis Home, an assisted-living facility, recently fired its director for being a gay man in a gay marriage.

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There is no shortage of incongruities in the matter of John Murphy vs. the Catholic Diocese of Richmond. Murphy recently was fired from his job as executive director of St. Francis Home, an assisted-living facility, because he's a gay man in a gay marriage.

"As a Catholic organization, we expect the employees of the diocese and its ministries to uphold and embody the consistent values and truths of the Catholic faith," the diocese explained in a statement, "including those preserving the sanctity of marriage."

Really? Because as Bill Harrison, executive director of Diversity Richmond, wrote in a column on GayRVA.com, that's pretty rich coming from an institution that spent decades "protecting child rapists" within its ranks.

Perhaps it's misguided to expect the Richmond Diocese to atone for the larger church's sins by condoning what it sees as another one. Or perhaps, after its own egregious behavior, the Catholic Church has eternally forfeited any right to condemn anyone for having a long-term committed relationship with, note it well, a consenting adult.

Either way, sacking Murphy creates a striking incongruity.

Yet it's not the only one.

The gay-rights organization Equality Virginia has started an online petition to protest Murphy's firing, and Murphy has filed a discrimination complaint with the EEOC. The petition concedes America's "long and important history of upholding religious freedom." But it insists "that right, which has preserved everyone's ability to worship and believe as they choose, should not be repurposed to allow individuals or institutions to impose harm on others."

It's not quite so simple as that. The diocese also is exercising another right the LGBT community should be careful about restricting: the right to freedom of association—to choose with whom you will socialize, consort, keep company . . . and marry. That right has been recognized for decades in cases such as NAACP v. Alabama, in which the Supreme Court upheld the right of NAACP members to "freely associate with others." Laws forbidding gay marriage trampled the fundamental right to "intimate association," as the Supreme Court repeatedly noted in its landmark gay-marriage case Obergefell v. Hodges. The raids on gay bars such as the famous Stonewall Inn, which galvanized the gay-rights movement, violated the right to less intimate forms of association.

Freedom of association works in two directions, just like, say, reproductive freedom. Compelled abortion violates reproductive freedom just as much as forbidding abortion does; compelling association is just as coercive as forbidding it. If gay-rights advocates, who for so long have championed freedom of association, suddenly have doubts now that the shoe is on the other foot, perhaps their doubts should be leavened with ambivalence.

Then there is the issue of diversity.

We are constantly reminded how crucial diversity is in every aspect of social life. Diversity "can drive innovation" (Harvard Business Review); it is "good for the boardroom" (Forbes) and "good for Hollywood's bottom line" (PBS) and "good for business and society" (The Washington Post) and so on. And we are constantly reminded about the need for more diversity everywhere: in the marijuana industry (NPR); in the Mormon church (MSN.com); in the Air Force leadership (USA Today); in the construction industry (the Philadelphia Tribune); in Hollywood (Ebony); even in the movie "Stonewall" (lots of folks).

Yet when he denounced Murphy's firing James Parrish, the executive director of Equality Virginia, insisted that "employees should be judged on their qualifications, experience and the job they do, nothing more, and nothing less." Many took exactly the same view three years ago when Republican legislators inexcusably refused to appoint a gay man, Tracy Thorne-Begland, to a judgeship. As one Virginia newspaper put it: "Ability, and Nothing More, Should Be What Matters."

If this is right, then the enthusiasm for diversity is at least partly misplaced. If nothing matters but qualifications, experience and performance, then gender, race, and other demographic markers do not matter. And if they do not matter, then why the endless insistence that they do? Why care at all that employment tests for the Chicago and New York Fire Departments had disparate impacts on black applicants? Why ask why "there are so few men in nursing"? Why give a second thought to the fact that Asian workers now make up half of all Silicon Valley tech employees? Such demographic questions are irrelevant. Aren't they?

To many of us, the Catholic Church's antipathy toward gays and lesbians is inscrutable. But inscrutable is not the same as impermissible, and those who try to make it so might end up ratifying principles that, in other circumstances, they might deeply regret.

This article originally appeared at the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

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  1. “Or perhaps, after its own egregious behavior, the Catholic Church has eternally forfeited any right to condemn anyone for having a long-term committed relationship with, note it well, a consenting adult.”

    I’m sorry, did the Bishop who did this hide any pedophiles from justice? I don’t understand the logic that because certain people in the Catholic Church did a very bad thing, they should no longer be allowed to uphold church doctrine. This is especially true given that you have provided no evidence that the guy who did the firing was in any way culpable in the pedophilia scandal.

    You’re basically arguing he should not be allowed to adhere to the teachings of his church because other people in the church (who he had no control over) did terrible things which are also against the teachings of his church. That’s…that’s some tenuous logic.

    1. I think when it comes to Catholic bishops, the burden of proof is on the bishop to prove he did not molest anyone during his rise to power.

    2. “That’s…that’s some tenuous logic.”

      I’m not sure that rigid linear logic is really the point. Consider the argument: “The Catholic Church is a wicked, horrible organization, so we want our guy to work there!”

      1. Consider the argument: “The Catholic Church is a wicked, horrible organization, so we want our guy to work there!”

        That’s not the argument as far as I’m concerned.

        The argument is “The Catholic Church is a wicked, horrible organization and I don’t want it to take over the healthcare sector. That’s why it should at least be forced to play on a level playing field with non-religious providers. In particular, it should be required to comply with all the onerous and costly workplace regulations that their non-religious competitors have to comply with.”

  2. This is just BS. The fact is that the Catholic Church (and i am not Catholic) has every right to, and should be expected to, insist that it’s employees ATTEMPT to embody and hold up the principles and values of the church.

    The example of the sexual misbehaving priests does not refute this position, but actually reinforces it. The priests, those that misbehaved and those that covered for them KNEW that is was a violation of the principles and values of the church. THAT IS WHY THEY HID IT!

    So, if you are going to use that as a defense for homosexuals living a homosexual lifestyle, then you must be planning to start hiding that you are gay? Clearly not, so what exactly is your point.

    Of course, much like the priests, it is not being attracted to children that is unacceptable, it is acting on that attraction, just as it is not WANTING to engage in homosexual acts that it considered unacceptable, it is engaging in them that is unacceptable.

    To be clear, in the Catholic view, the wanting is still sinful, but is to be addressed in confession, atonement, and forgiveness just as any sin of the soul.

    This entire article is BS. The government is forbidden, and should be forbidden, from discriminating against people based on consenting behavior between adults. That however has nothing to do with religious institutions of any time, discriminating against behavior is part of their purpose.

    1. If you want to work for a church owned charity, work for your own church. This is called FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION.

      1. I wish to clarify that my comments DO NOT in fact, apply to the the entire article. If I could edit the original comment I would correct that. In fact it is the positions of Mr Murphy and Mr. Harrison to which my comments apply.

    2. This is just BS. The fact is that the Catholic Church (and i am not Catholic) has every right to, and should be expected to, insist that it’s employees ATTEMPT to embody and hold up the principles and values of the church.

      Sure, it does, as far as the church is concerned. But when a church runs other businesses and charges money for them, then they should be subject to the same rules as all other businesses.

      Other businesses, of course, should also be free to fire gay employees or female employees or whatever. But they aren’t. And selectively exempting church-run businesses from the requirements that are imposed on other businesses give church-run businesses a competitive advantage, and that is establishment of religion. More importantly, it leads to churches actually taking over entire markets.

  3. For me it comes down to whether Murphy worked for the church per se. He worked for an assisted living facility run by the church. Is that really part of the church, such that it should get special dispensation from employment law? (I don’t like anti-discrimination laws at all for freedom of association reasons, but that’s not what the law is) If the church ran a restaurant, even if non-profit like the living facility, should the restaurant be able to discriminate for religious reasons? I feel that the church should be able to hire and fire for religious reasons only within parts of the church that engage in religious activities. This doesn’t fit the bill for me. But it’s a tough call, and illustrates why we’re on high wire act when we try to balance competing rights. (In this case the right to religious freedom versus the “right” to not be discriminated against).

    1. There is no right against discrimination, just laws that compel it. You should be free to associate (or not) with whomever you wish and free to change your mind at any time.

      1. There is no right against discrimination, just laws that compel it. You should be free to associate (or not) with whomever you wish and free to change your mind at any time.

        You should indeed be. But regular businesses aren’t, so churches should be either. If churches get special dispensation to ignore rules and regulations while in competition with regular businesses, they have a competitive advantage, which will result in them sooner or later dominating the market.

    2. “I feel that the church should be able to hire and fire for religious reasons only within parts of the church that engage in religious activities. This doesn’t fit the bill for me.”

      So, which part of the St. Francis home isn’t religious?

      This is from the St. Francis’ Home’s mission statement:

      “We strive to maintain a traditional Ministry in the Spirit of Saint Francis of Assisi in the comfort of our modern facilities made possible by the generosity of the Catholic Diocese of Richmond.

      “Saint Francis Home, Inc. is a privately supported, Charitable Organization as defined under U.S. Federal Tax Code 501 (c) (3). The Home was founded in 1973 as a Social Ministry of the Catholic Diocese of Richmond and is governed by a 25 member volunteer Board of Directors appointed by the Bishop of Richmond, who is the Chairman of the Organization.”

      1. So, which part of the St. Francis home isn’t religious?

        The part where they charge money for their services; that makes them simply a commercial provider of health care services.

        But they can charge “40-50% below market rates”. Why? Out of charity? No. They are able to underprice their competitors because of the tax savings and exemptions from workplace regulations they enjoy. In effect, the tax payer is giving this business a special competitive advantage, which the church then uses to spread its message and ideology. That’s “establishment of religion” and it’s wrong.

        I don’t think such church-run businesses should even be considered religious or charitable organizations. But even if they are, they certainly shouldn’t be exempted from the same cumbersome regulations that all other businesses are subjected to.

        1. “Let’s make health care more expensive for the poor and middle class, so that I can have the satisfaction of sticking it to those icky religionists!”

      2. I didn’t say the home wasn’t religious, whatever “being religious” means. I said it wasn’t engaged in religious activities. Providing social services (ministry) is not a religious activity just because a religious organization provides the services. By that logic a church is engaged in religious activities when its members volunteer to clean a park. And I fail to see how being a charitable organization is relevant.

        1. Really? Helping the poor isn’t a religious activity?

          1. Exactly. Example: when the government distributes food stamps it is not engaging in religious activity.

  4. Well, maybe the Catholic Church should have done more to kick out the homosexual priests who abused their position*, but that is a somewhat different matter.

    *For the most part, the priest sex scandals were not cases of clinical pedophilia.

  5. I think an important part of this story is being left out.

    The guy was upfront that he was married to a man when he was hired. The people hiring him had no problem with that. It was only a couple of days later, when presumably someone in the religious hierarchy (as opposed to the business hierarchy) found out that it was a problem.

    That is… guy says “you’re fine hiring a gay guy married to another gay guy?” “Yep!” “Well, if it’s not a problem, sure I’ll take the job.” and then a couple days later he’s fired.

    Whatever your feelings are on non-discrimination laws and Freedom of Association/Speech/Religion/Puppy-Kicking, the church/nursing home were the bad actors in this scenario.

    And personally? I doubt I’ll ever try to sue a company for not hiring me ’cause I’m gay. Quite frankly that kind of discrimination suit is hard to win, expensive, and not worth the effort. But if a company hires me with full disclosure and then throws a hissy-fit only a few days after I start? Fuck those guys. Fuck them in the eye. With a rake. Sideways. I probably turned down other offers to accept that one, I may have even quit a job to take that one, and I was on-the-level with them, so for them to stab me in the back like that? Yeah, that’s making it personal.

    1. So for two days they led him to believe that he had the job?

      If this was a breach of contract, he doesn’t have to waste time with the EEOC, he can sue for breach of contract.

      If it wasn’t a breach of contract, he just had two days of unjustified optimism.

      1. Two things.

        First, you’re missing my point, which is that regardless of the law and your opinion on it, the church/facility is acting very poorly and not in good faith in this case.

        Second, Virginia is an at-will state. So unless there is something specific in the employment contract they violated (which I doubt) then the EEOC is about the only recourse the man has.

      2. If it wasn’t a breach of contract, he just had two days of unjustified optimism.

        The real issue here is that churches are in competition with commercial providers, yet get both tax breaks and exemptions from workplace regulations. That is wrong and dangerous.

        When churches provide for-pay services, they should be at least required to comply with the same requirements as commercial providers. And actually, we should probably set the bar higher given that they are tax exempt.

  6. I think we got our principles mixed up. Right now, many people think that churches should be both tax exempt and should be able to discriminate, while businesses should be able to do neither. But these churches aren’t providing charity, they are acting as for-pay providers of services.

    The tax breaks and exemptions give churches a big competitive advantage, allowing them to charge much less. In the long term, that can play out in such a way that churches end up the predominant health care providers while still imposing their belief system on their patients and employees. That’s wrong.

    At the very least, churches should be held to the same standards and requirements as commercial operations when providing health care. In fact, I think due to their tax exempt status, they should be subject to stricter regulations and requirements than commercial operations.

    If they don’t like complying with the same or higher standards as other for-pay health care facilities, they should get out of the business.

    Of course, churches should be able to do whatever they want when they provide free care.

  7. Why does this article assume that gay marriage is acceptable? It is not, unless psychotic
    behavior is acceptable. I’m astounded at how people think that just because two people agree to do something incredibly stupid, it is their right to do so. Libertarians are braindead. A four year old child can understand that Nature created genders for a purpose – just look at the sexyual equipment of each gender – does anyone realy believe that sex, which was developed to ensure a sustainable species, makes any sense with same gendered couples? I guess we’ll just continue laughing and making fun of these pathetic homos. They wil never admit they made a really dumb decision. What a total waste.

    1. I think some people confuse libertarianism with libertinism.

    2. “[…] that Nature created […]” and “[…] was developed to ensure a sustainable species […]”

      Is this the “it’s not natural” argument?

      Um… right.

      First up, if we start basing morality on what’s “natural”, then rape and murder are good while aspirin, penicillin and digital watches are bad.

      Second up, if you want to disregard gay folk as “unnatural”, you have to explain why, if it’s so unnatural, you see it in every human society/civilization and among a huge swathe of the animal kingdom as well.

      Further, if you’re ascribing some sort of *intent* to “Nature” (nice use of capitalization to indicate a significant entity akin to a deity) then you have to explain on what basis “Nature” didn’t intend for gay people to exist given that “Nature” has created so many of us, and among so many species.

  8. I’m Catholic, and think that the Church should get out of the health-care business and just operate some charity clinics. Big money has tainted religion too often.

  9. Atheists need to start their own clinics and hospitals.

    1. Maybe I’ve just lived in the wrong areas, but I’m curious what you think an “atheist” hospital would do to distinguish itself from other hospitals.

      “Catholic” hospitals/clinics will fire people for having the wrong belief, getting it on with the wrong people, and occasionally just for supporting the wrong people on their Facebook page. They’ll also fire doctors who perform medically necessary abortions to save the mother’s life.

      That is how a “Catholic” hospital distinguishes itself.

      Just what do you imagine an “atheist” hospital would do that all the secular hospitals, clinics and doctors’ offices I’ve been in don’t do?

      1. It is atheists who are harassing Catholic institutions to stop being Catholic. Let them form their own institutions and leave us alone.

  10. I vote with this firing….

    I mean I would not put a communist in charge of a Capitialist Business Association or a embezeller in charge of my money.

    …and those of you that bash them for there past misdeeds must be joking, I mean really, how many times do they have to appologize?

    This people are just anti-religion and this is just something to bash Catholics with.

    The Catholics are not going disband and there is no requierment for them to do so…

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