Carla Hale, 59, a lesbian P.E. teacher, has filed a grievance against the diocese of the Ohio Catholic school where she worked for 19 years until administrators fired her for “violating moral law.”
According to The Columbus Dispatch, Hale’s sexual orientation became public when an obituary for her late mother published Hale’s name along with the name of her female partner, Julie. An anonymous parent sent a letter to Hale’s employer, Bishop Watterson High School in Columbus, Ohio, complaining about Hale’s presence on staff.
The school fired Hale in March, explaining that by maintaining a homosexual relationship she had violated the diocesan policy requiring Catholic school personnel to be examples of moral behavior.
Critics are lambasting the school for being intolerant and for overstepping its reach into the private lives of its staff members. More than forty thousand people have signed a petition at Change.org, urging the school to reinstate Hale.
But some say the firing is a proper response.
“Catholic schools entrust their teachers with a special responsibility to provide spiritual formation and act as role models for their impressionable charges,” wrote Joshua Bowman at catholicvote.org. “Faithful Catholic parents have every right to expect that teachers at a Catholic school should be faithful ministers of the gospel and witnesses to Christ in both their public and private lives.”
The Roman Catholic Diocese of Columbus and the Central Ohio Association of Catholic Educators have a contract that says educators can be terminated on grounds of immorality, but the City of Columbus has an anti-discrimination law without any exemption for religious organizations. Employers found guilty of discriminating based on sexual orientation could face up to 180 days in jail and a $1,000 fine.
If Hale sues the diocese, her case will raise questions of religious liberty: Can a city dictate to a religious institution whom they can and cannot hire? Do religious employers have a constitutionally protected right to make employment decisions based on theological compatibility?
So far, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the local diocese have declined to comment.