Philly Catholic School Facing Severe Legal Punishment After Firing Lesbian Teacher

A Catholic school on the outskirts of Philadelphia has come under heavy attack in recent days after firing an openly lesbian teacher in a same-sex civil marriage with her partner.  

Since 2007, Waldron Mercy Academy knew that teacher Margie Winters had been civilly married to her lesbian lover, but they kept her on as Director of Religious Education anyway for a total of eight years, under the advisement that she keep her relationship secret and not discuss it with students or parents. Though she kept the order, parents from the school eventually found out about Winters and complained to the school and the Philadelphia archdiocese. Winters was fired shortly after, on June 22.

In an e-mail addressed to school faculty and parents last Friday, principal Nell Stetser first praised Winters for her "amazing contributions" to the school before saying, "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."

Though the Philadelphia archdiocese claims it had nothing to do with the firing, including a statement from Communications Director Ken Gavin that no discussion took place about "revoking the ability of the school to identify itself as Catholic," Winters believes her firing came as a result of the school's connection to the archdiocese, saying that the school worried that its "Catholic identity would be in jeopardy."

In a statement to reporters, Principal Stetser echoed Winters' assertions, saying she fired her to protect "the Catholic identity of Waldron Mercy Academy."

In the wake of Winters' firing, Waldron Mercy Academy faces a tough uphill battle against parents upset with its decision, and against local lawmakers as well.

Lower Merion Township, where Waldron resides, currently has anti-discrimination ordinances on the books preventing businesses from firing people based on sexual orientation. Exemptions for religious institutions exist unless the institution receives support "in whole or in part by government appropriations." According to ThinkProgress, Waldron Mercy "has received more than $270,000 from Pennsylvania's Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit, and students also receive financial aid through the state's Education Improvement Tax Credit. If found in violation of the ordinance, the academy could be held liable for backpay, required to rehire Winters, and [face] a penalty as high as $10,000, plus attorneys' fees."

Should Winters win any subsequent lawsuits against Waldron, it could be a future sign of religious institutions having their tax exemptions removed if they don't toe the line of government orthodoxy.