SF Holds Judiciary Hearing Over Catholic Morality Clauses

"People have their rights."

San Francisco held a California State Assembly judiciary hearing that argued over the legality of Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone making teachers working at four diocesan high schools sign "morality clauses," which classified them as ministers who must uphold Catholic teaching regarding same-sex marriage, homosexuality, contraception, and artificial insemination in the classroom as well as in their private lives. 

Kathleen Purcell, a constitutional lawyer representing sides opposed to the morality clauses, argued that since the San Francisco archdiocese follows a curriculum approved by the state, actively recruits non-Catholic students, has promised not to proselytize, and receives accreditation from the University of California – requiring them to teach "objectively about religion" –  then religious freedom does not protect them from classifying teachers as ministers.  

Purcell argued that San Francisco's "Catholic schools have entered the public square" and must "decide who they are" before they impose morality clauses, as they define themselves as a religious institution passing the Catholic faith on to students on the one hand, and on the other, adhering to state standards of education while welcoming students of all faiths.

"They want it all," Purcell said.

Purcell also pointed out that many Catholic schools will actively recruit non-Catholic students while simultaneously reassuring the parents of those students the school will take no further efforts to convert them, so classifying teachers as ministers in this case would be inappropriate.

The Judiciary hearing had been requested by Assemblymember Phil Ting (D-San Francisco) who felt that Archbishop Cordileone's morality clauses could have negative impact on the four high schools –  Archbishop Riordan High School and Sacred Heart Cathedral Preparatory in San Francisco, Marin Catholic High School in Kentfield and Junipero Serra High School in San Mateo – calling them "extremely prestigious" with "a history of graduating many leaders in the Bay Area and California."

Arguing alongside Purcell, Leslie Griffin, a law professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, characterized Cordileone's classification as a "silver bullet" for employers on account of it being too much of a "big exception" for them to avoid discrimination laws. 

Griffin also called it "problematic" to ask teachers to sign contracts that supposedly force them to "give up their constitutional rights," maintaining religious freedom as non-absolute and has its limits. 

Defending the archdiocese, Jeffrey Berman, an attorney with Seyfarth Shaw in Los Angeles, countered the assertion that classifying teachers as ministers were too big of an exception, saying ""It's just another exemption"  and that minister classification apply to all sorts of professions, including administrators, kosher cooks and choir directors. 

"Teachers qualify because they are role models in fulfilling the religious mission of the school," said Berman. 

Attorney Michael Blacher of the firm Liebert Cassidy Whitmore, echoed Berman's arguments, saying many of the religious schools he represents (Christian, Islamic, Jewish) have an intended mission to promote the faith and they intentionally hire teachers who can help them carry out the task. 

"One refrain I keep hearing [from the schools] is how fortunate they are to live in a country that protects their religious freedoms," Blacher added.

Keeping in line with Purcell's assertion that these Catholic don't actually perform their intended function of passing on the faith, Mark Stone (D-Monterey Bay), chairman of the judiciary committee, asked the if the morality clauses were being "arbitrarily enforced" considering that the schools were following state educational guidelines while requiring teachers to adhere to Catholic teaching in their private lives. 

Berman attempted offered zero apologies to Stone's assertions, saying that religious institutions have gone so far as to forgo government funds when Church and State clash.

"My clients anguish over these decisions," Berman said.

The hearing concluded with Assemblymember Phil Ting hoping that a compromise be struck between the two parties. 

"We don't believe when you enter these schools you leave part of yourself at the door," said Ting. "I think we want to make sure that all the rights we have fought for are continued." We're trying to strike a balance and be respectful of religious institutions, but people have their rights."

Originally published at ChurchMilitant.com