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Catholic School Teachers Walk a Fine Line

If Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone has his way, teachers at four San Francisco Bay Area Catholic schools will lose whatever little freedom they have in contradicting church doctrine ("Morals Clause in Catholic Schools Roils Bay Area," The New York Times, Feb. 27).  They will be forbidden to publicly challenge the church's teachings regarding homosexual acts, contraception, and embryonic stem cell research. In addition, the archbishop wants to designate teachers as part of the ministry, a step which would deprive them of protection under federal anti-discrimination laws.

Similar morality clauses are already in place in Oakland, Cincinnati, Cleveland and Honolulu. But so far, they have not provoked the same pushback. If the archbishop prevails in San Francisco, I expect to see other cities falling into line.  How teachers will react if the movement goes nationwide is hard to predict.  However, strictly from a legal standpoint, I don't think they have much of a case. The only leg they have to stand on is the attempt to reclassify them as ministers of the church, which they could claim they never signed up for, and is an end run around laws that govern other employers.

There are 318 teachers in the schools under the archbishop's jurisdiction in charge of educating 3,600 students.  I don't know how many teachers there are Catholic.  But being Catholic is not a condition of employment in most Catholic schools.  As a result, some non-Catholic teachers will feel muzzled. Yet they certainly knew beforehand that Catholic schools are dogmatic in matters of faith.  That's why I doubt they stand much of a chance in the controversy. I wish them well, but they signed a contract with a morals clause, and a contract is a contract.

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The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner's Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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