Catholic teacher launches test of ‘values’ contracts
Calgary Catholic School District officials have confirmed that its teachers are required to sign documents that suggest same-sex or common-law relationships are a breach of employment contracts, amid a provincewide controversy over the practice.
But now that a Calgary teacher has brought her case before the Alberta Human Rights Commission, LGBTQ advocates say the issue will continue to be challenged, especially since the NDP’s Bill 24 legislates all schools to create GSAs for students that want that support.
“How can these contracts — these Catholicity clauses — be allowed to stand when they are clearly discriminatory?” said Kristopher Wells, associate professor with the Faculty of Health and Community Studies at MacEwan University.
“It’s hard to believe that in 2018, when same-sex marriage is legal in this country, that anyone could lose their job because of that.”
Wells says allowing such clauses that require teachers to uphold “Catholic values,” which include engaging only in relationships deemed appropriate by the church, also create a dangerous environment of fear and exclusion not just among teachers but also young students.
“This is not a system that is directly supported by the church. It is a public education system supported by taxpayers,” Wells said.
“But there is this ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ mentality that creates feelings of stress, despair, where you have to remain silent to maintain employment. That not only impacts teachers, but it denies LGBTQ youth the important role models they need.”
According to the Calgary Catholic School District, all teachers have to sign a contract that outlines a variety of expectations, one of which includes living “a lifestyle and deportment in harmony with Catholic teaching and principles.”
Richard Svoboda, superintendent of human resources at CCSD, confirmed “anyone who is not living a lifestyle in alignment with the church, that piece of the contract would impact them.
“Relationships that would be acceptable are those recognized by the Catholic Church, that have to be acknowledged by a Catholic priest.”
Svoboda then added, “that would not include a same-sex relationship or a common-law relationship.”
Teachers are dealt with on a “case-by-case” basis and encouraged to meet with a Catholic priest.
“It isn’t for me to determine whether they are right or wrong in the eyes of the Catholic Church,” Svoboda said.
“We provide them with avenues to reconcile.”
Svoboda said he is aware of openly gay teachers in the system, but none have had their positions terminated.
However, former Calgary Catholic school principal Barb Hamilton has recently taken her case to the Alberta Human Rights Commission, alleging she was forced to leave her position because of her sexuality.
Wells said there is also a second ongoing human-rights complaint involving an LGBTQ teacher in Alberta who does not want to be identified.
In the past week, teachers in Edmonton and Red Deer have also raised concerns about having to sign Catholicity clauses that dictate their lifestyle choices and discourage being gay.
Tonya Callaghan, an associate professor of education at the University of Calgary’s Werklund School of Education, left her job as a Catholic school teacher to research institutionalized homophobia in the Catholic school system.
These clauses are disproportionately used to push out LGBTQ teachers, she said.
Schools aren’t using contracts to squeeze out teachers who use contraception or live with boyfriends, she said.
“We don’t see news stories about that. Those things are not happening.”
Wells added if the Alberta Human Rights Commission discovers that LGBTQ teachers are in fact being treated differently than teachers who are straight but living with partners out of wedlock, the violations will have to go before higher courts.
It isn’t for me to determine whether they are right or wrong in the eyes of the Catholic Church.