Roman Catholic

Mass. Court Rules Catholic School Can't Necessarily Refuse to Hire Gays

Judge rules religious freedom doesn't apply given the particulars.


What could possibly go wrong with the government deciding when religious people are actually expressing religion?
Fontbonne Academy

Massachusetts, like all states, has its own antidiscrimination laws for employment, housing, public accommodations, et cetera. Like many states, Massachusetts does acknowledge the right of religious institutions to choose with whom to associate on the basis of its beliefs and provides some exceptions to antidiscrimination laws.

But these exemptions are not all-encompassing, as Catholic girls' school Fontbonne Academy just discovered this week. The Catholic school retracted a job offer they extended to Matthew Barrett to be their food services director when he put his husband's name as his emergency contact on employment forms, meaning he's gay and married. That's not exactly in alignment with the Catholic Church's teachings.

Barrett and the Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders (GLAD) fought the decision as antigay discrimination. The school defended itself, calling on the religious exemption, but the judge ruled it didn't actually apply here. Chris Geidner at BuzzFeed analyzes the ruling:

The statutory exemption for education organizations "operated, supervised or controlled by or in connection with a religious organization" includes exemption for "any action with respect to matters of employment" — language that the court acknowledges "appears to confer upon Fontbonne the exemption it claims in this case."

However, the court pointed to later language in the statute limiting the "employer" exemption only to those schools that "limit membership, enrollment, admission, or participation to members of that religion." The school, the court found, does no such thing, so the exemption does not apply.

The judge also ruled that there was "minimal risk" of Fontbonne being seen as endorsing same-sex marriage by hiring Barrett as a food service director and noted that Barrett's job does not involve duties "as an administrator or teacher of religious matters." The school is therefore not open to using a ministerial exemption. That Barrett obviously isn't following the Catholic Church's teachings doesn't matter because he is not responsible for teaching children in any way, shape, or form.

Read more about the case and the ruling itself here.

The ruling is obviously going to be a concern to supporters of religious freedom of association, because it puts the government in the position of deciding for which hires religious institutions can allow its faith to help dictate its actual operations. Why should a judge be telling a Catholic school what positions should matter in terms of expressing its faith?

But that's also what happens when we tie freedom of association to only one particular example of expression (religion) and deny it to others. Because Massachusetts permits freedom of association leading to discrimination only in the cases for extremely small businesses or religious organizations, there is no other argument for liberty that the state would accept.