Encroachment on religious principles hits home
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?”