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NJIT's Student Newspaper

The Vector

NJIT's Student Newspaper

The Vector

Should religious schools compelled by the government to employ and retain LGBT staff that engage in what they deem to be sinful behavior?


[one_third]IndependentColin Bayne

In the wake of the Equality Town Hall, the issues surrounding the furthering of equal rights for LGBT Americans have been brought into the mainstream discourse once again. Of particular note is the longstanding issue of employment discrimination with regards to the LGBT community.

Central to this debate is the particular status of religious institutions like private religious schools. While no federal protections exist, in many of the states with current LGBT anti-discrimination laws, there exist broad religious exemptions to these rules. This is meant to prevent religious institutions from compromising their beliefs. However, in practice, it amounts to a license to discriminate.

In the past decades there have been several high-profile cases of LGBT teachers at religious schools being fired upon the discovery of their marital status or gender identity. These firings are usually justified legally under what is known as the ‘ministerial exception’ to anti-discrimination laws. This exception was put in place to allow religious institutions the leeway to hold their clergy to a moral standard according to their religious beliefs. However, increasingly, religious institutes have extended the role to include lay people employed by religious organizations in positions of authority, such as teachers or guidance counselors.

These people are clearly not ministering nor providing theological services, and as such should not qualify as members of a ministry, meaning that the ministerial exception should not apply to them. The misuse of this exception to target LGBT people is often defended as simply being a natural exercise of the right of free religious practice, but this can often be seen to be untrue. If these institutions were sincere in their efforts to simply enforce religious moral codes, then we would see a slew of Catholic educators fired for divorce and remarriage, actions explicitly prohibited by church law, and yet we do not. Only with regards to the LGBT status of teachers do we see this moral defense invoked on a systematic level, and as such is extremely discriminatory.

 The short answer to the question is yes; religious schools should be held to the same legal standards as the rest of the country when it comes to anti-discriminatory hiring laws, both those which currently exist on state levels, those which may be passed such as the Equality Act and any relevant case law which may affect this, such as in the three current Supreme Court cases on these issues.

[one_third]Independent Daniil Ivanov

There is currently no legal protection for Americans based on sexual orientation. This means that there is no current precedent for government intervention to force religious schools to allow members of the LGBT community to become staff. 

Religious institutions should have the freedom to practice and preach as they please, as is their Constitutional right. For the government to impede on the religious beliefs of a private school would surely be an overreach.

However, telling a school to not discriminate against hiring LGBT staff does not seem like an ambitious government endeavor. Afterall, parents are paying tens of thousands of dollars every year for not only a religious and strict education, but for a presumably higher quality one. If the best math or science or English teacher in the state or country just so happens to be gay, that should not deter a school from trying to have the best educators for their students.

The question also applies to non-educational faculty, such as cafeteria and custodial staff. Does the person serving pizza at noon or the custodian mopping the floor also have to follow the rules set by the religion? Is there a heteronormative method to making a hot dog or swapping in a new paper towel roll in the bathroom?

Also, religious schools are legally not allowed to discriminate what students they can accept based off of religion, so the classroom is already occupied by people of varying faiths as long as their parents send a check to the school. It would not be a logical stretch to apply that rule to educators as well, as long as they follow the in-class practices set by the school.

The government should not be telling a religion how to practice theology, but there’s no real room for theology in a non-philosophical classroom. When it comes to education, all schools should be focusing on what the teacher is teaching and not what they do in their private lives.

[one_third]ConservativeMark Pothen

On the heels of a Supreme Court case that could potentially make sexual orientation a protected class under civil rights law, there are questions on how such a decision would affect religious schools given that there are many cases in which LGBT individuals have been fired due to their engagement in sexual behavior that the religious schools deem sinful.

The conversation around these religious schools utilizing their freedom of association and of religion has devolved into portraying these schools as acting discriminatory towards these LGBT individuals on the basis of their sexual orientation.

This dishonest characterization stems from an improper merger of identity with behavior, and the idea that if the institution disapproves of the behavior that an individual is engaging in, therefore, they disapprove of the human being as a whole. There is a bevy of different behaviors, sexual and not, that these religious schools disapprove of and would consider as being fireable offenses, including adultery or any other behavior that strays from the traditional views that the school holds.

The religious schools are engaged in a consensual agreement between an employer and employee wherein either party can walk away at any point of their own choosing. However, the government compelling religious schools to employ individuals engaging in an activity they disagree with is an imposition of its own morality on religious institutions at the point of a gun. All religious schools are asking for is that the government respect their freedom of association and religion.

Religious schools have a moral standard that they wish to uphold and also wish to instill within the children that attend their schools. If there are individuals, particularly ones who are shaping the minds of children, rebelling against the doctrine of the religious school that employs them, of course, there are consequences and the potential for termination of employment.

This is not only true for LGBT individuals but also for employees who are engaged in activities that would make them in violation of their contracts. The religious schools are simply arguing that if an education official doesn’t maintain the principles that the school holds, the official can easily work at a charter school or other public school that will most likely employ them with no qualms regarding the behavior that they engage in.

Ultimately the parents are the ones who decide the type of school that their child attends. If a parent wants to send their child to a school that upholds traditional values, it is their prerogative and they should be free to do so because the only people who should decide how to raise their child is the parents, not a government that seeks to promote its own virtues.   

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