En­croach­ment on re­li­gious prin­ci­ples hits home

Daily Times (Primos, PA) - - NEWS - Chris­tine Flow­ers Colum­nist Chris­tine Flow­ers is an at­tor­ney and Delaware County res­i­dent. Her col­umn ap­pears ev­ery Sun­day, and oc­ca­sion­ally on Fri­day. Email her at cflow­ers1961@gmail.com.

When the Supreme Court le­gal­ized gay mar­riage last month (and yes, this will def­i­nitely be the topic of an up­com­ing Point-Coun­ter­point, Delco Style), peo­ple who sup­ported the ma­jor­ity dis­missed the pos­si­bil­ity that re­li­gious lib­erty could be en­dan­gered by such a broad and sweep­ing de­ci­sion.

On the other hand, peo­ple like me, who had al­ready seen the writ­ing on the wall years ago with the rise of “hate crimes” and “hate speech” leg­is­la­tion, weren’t con­vinced that this was “much ado about noth­ing.”

And we were right. It has al­ready be­gun. Be­fore you could even say “Betty Crocker,” two bak­ers in Ore­gon were fined $135,000 for re­fus­ing to bake a cake for a les­bian wed­ding. This ac­tu­ally had very lit­tle to do with the Supreme Court de­ci­sion in Oberge­fell, be­cause the case arose years be­fore the de­ci­sion was is­sued, and was based on a state anti-dis­crim­i­na­tion law. Nonethe­less, the re­li­gious lib­er­ties of two Chris­tian bak­ers were en­croached upon be­cause a les­bian (aptly named “Cryer”) was an­noyed that she couldn’t get her but­ter cream lay­ers with a smile.

Some have cheered the fine, be­cause they ap­par­ently be­lieve that forc­ing some­one to pro­vide a ser­vice that of­fends their con­science (and bak­ing a cake as part of a cel­e­bra­tion that vi­o­lates your moral­ity does in­deed of­fend the con­science) is per­fectly fine. They usu­ally say some­thing along the lines of, “Hey, we’re not ask­ing you to marry us, just bake the damn cake and move on.”

And while there is some dis­pute as to whether “just bak­ing the damn cake” in­volves com­pro­mis­ing your re­li­gious prin­ci­ples, it is a sign that so­ci­ety is in­creas­ingly hos­tile to claims of re­li­gious free­dom when this free­dom clashes with the rain­bow tsunami.

But we don’t have to travel to Ore­gon to see this creep­ing in­fringe­ment at work. Here in our own backyard, the so­cial engi­neers are busy strate­giz­ing for their next as­sault on re­li­gion. And for me, this gets very per­sonal.

From 1970 to 1979, I tended what was then known as Me­rion Mercy Academy. The beau­ti­ful school, si­t­u­ated in Lower Me­rion and home to the Sis­ters of Mercy mother house, was my own home from fourth through 12th grades. I have gone to many schools, in­clud­ing three be­fore I even started at Me­rion and five af­ter I got the blue and gold tas­sel, but none have left their mark on my heart like MMA.

In re­cent years, the lower eight grades merged with our brother school Wal­dron, to be­come Wal­dron Mercy Academy. And it is at my alma mater that the seeds of dis­cord sown by Jus­tice An­thony Kennedy in his Har­le­quin ro­mance of a ma­jor­ity de­ci­sion have been sown, and are tak­ing root.




at- this week, the re­li­gious ed­u­ca­tion di­rec­tor at Wal­dron Mercy, Margie Win­ters, has been dis­missed by the school, ap­par­ently at least in part be­cause she is a les­bian, mar­ried to another les­bian and liv­ing openly as wife and wife. In point of fact, Win­ters has not been fired, even though the pa­pers and some dis­grun­tled par­ents would make it seem that way. Win­ters had the same at-will con­tract that most teach­ers at pri­vate schools are given, and the school chose not to re­new her con­tract.

That’s when the heav­ens opened and the hy­per­bole rained down from the storm clouds. Ac­cord­ing to Nell Stetser, Wal­dron Mercy’s prin­ci­pal: “[The] school rec­og­nizes the au­thor­ity of the arch­bishop in Philadelphia, es­pe­cially the teach­ing of re­li­gion, be­cause we call our­selves Catholic ... In the Mercy spirit, many of us ac­cept life choices that con­tra­dict cur­rent church teach­ings, but to con­tinue as a Catholic school, Wal­dron Mercy must com­ply with those teach­ings.”

There are a few im­por­tant points, here. First, and fore­most, we are talk­ing about a Catholic school. A pri­vate Catholic school, to be more spe­cific. It is a school where the Catholic cat­e­chism is the carotid artery of the aca­demic body, puls­ing through ev­ery sub­ject, ev­ery ac­tiv­ity, ev­ery public and pri­vate move that the ad­min­is­tra­tion and stu­dent body make. When I was there, a cru­ci­fix hung on ev­ery wall in a very prom­i­nent place, and I have no rea­son to be­lieve that 36 years later, the in­te­rior dec­o­ra­tion changed.

Sec­ond, we are talk­ing about a teacher of re­li­gion. This is not the soc­cer coach. This is not bi­ol­ogy, French or home ec (OK, I’m show­ing my age, they prob­a­bly don’t of­fer that any­more, which is re­ally quite wise since the only thing I re­mem­ber from that class is how to make Jun­ket. Don’t know what that is? Con­sider your­self blessed.)

The point is, Margie Win­ters was the di­rec­tor of re­li­gious ed­u­ca­tion at a Catholic school, and it can­not have been lost on her that the Catholic faith op­poses ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity. It is, in fact, con­sid­ered a sin, whether sec­u­lar so­ci­ety agrees or not. So mar­ry­ing another woman and com­ing to the school with that civil sta­tus should have trig­gered in her the thought that, “Hmm, maybe this might be­come an is­sue some day.”

The other point is that, as Nell Stetser pointed out, many Catholics may ac­cept “life choices” that con­tra­dict Church teach­ings, but that doesn’t mean that the church has to just roll over and say, “OK, you win, we’ll com­pro­mise our be­liefs to make you feel bet­ter about your­self be­cause you’re so darn nice.”

Get­ting mar­ried was a choice that Margie Win­ters made. She was not dis­missed be­cause she was a les­bian. She was dis­missed be­cause she openly de­clared, through her mar­riage, that she was not a celi­bate les­bian. It was her vol­un­tary act, and not her sta­tus, that war­ranted the dis­missal.

So here is where the en­croach­ment on re­li­gious

has free­dom comes in. Some par­ents who ap­par­ently didn’t read the fine print when they signed ad­mis­sions forms to this Catholic school (did I men­tion it was a Catholic school?) are out­raged that this won­der­ful teacher has been, in their es­ti­ma­tion, fired be­cause she is a les­bian. They vow to fight back, and are us­ing the media to make their po­si­tion seem more sym­pa­thetic and rea­son­able than it ac­tu­ally is.

As an alumna of this academy, these par­ents both anger and trou­ble me. Just who do they think they are, try­ing to force the school to vi­o­late its prin­ci­ples and bend to their uber-tol­er­ant, patently sec­u­lar will? They are ex­actly the type of peo­ple who made me trem­ble when I read An­thony Kennedy’s de­ci­sion, be­cause his as­sur­ances that re­li­gious or­ga­ni­za­tions would not be forced to com­pro­mise their val­ues were so hol­low and so ten­u­ous that I knew it would be days, if not hours be­fore an ar­ro­gant, in-your-face chal­lenge was made to a re­li­gious or­ga­ni­za­tion’s moral in­tegrity.

I’m dev­as­tated that my old school has now be­come a bat­tle­ground for this ridicu­lous cru­sade. I’m puz­zled that state Sen. Daylin Leach, D-17, who rep­re­sents the area, has even sug­gested that the money the school has re­ceived from the state would sub­ject it to a town­ship anti-dis­crim­i­na­tion pol­icy that pro­tects em­ploy­ees based on “sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion.” Leach, a lawyer, should be fa­mil­iar with a Supreme Court case called “Hosanna-Ta- bor Lutheran Church and School vs. EEOC.” In that case, de­cided a few years ago when the court ap­par­ently still thought re­li­gious be­liefs were im­por­tant, the ma­jor­ity held that there was a “min­is­te­rial ex­cep­tion” for work­place bias law­suits. In other words, if you could show that the em­ployee was in a job that was “ad­vanc­ing the re­li­gious mis­sion,” it was vir­tu­ally im­pos­si­ble to be suc­cess­ful in a wrong­ful ter­mi­na­tion law­suit, even if you were ter­mi­nated for what could ar­guably be a dis­crim­i­na­tory rea­son. Margie Win­ters was the di­rec­tor of re­li­gious ed­u­ca­tion at Wal­dron Mercy. Sounds like “ad­vanc­ing the re­li­gious mis­sion to me.” So even though Lower Me­rion Town­ship is a lovely place, I don’t think its or­di­nance trumps a Supreme Court man­date.

This, my friends, is a very cau­tion­ary tale about what hap­pens when you start greas­ing the slope with fab­ri­cated fun­da­men­tal rights. We are of­ten told that re­li­gious be­liefs will not be harmed by sec­u­lar rul­ings. In this con­text, we are asked, “How does gay mar­riage hurt my own het­ero­sex­ual union?”

Per­haps the ques­tion we should start ask­ing is, “How much longer will I be free to teach my chil­dren the prin­ci­ples of my faith with­out some­one ask­ing for a tol­er­ant re­write?”

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