In the old days religious organizations could fire gay staff without a word of explanation. But suddenly things are changing.
When a Catholic school gym teacher was fired after an anonymous letter claimed she was in a homosexual relationship, the Diocese of Columbus, Ohio found themselves on the defensive this month. Pressed to explain the firing, a spokesperson said that all educators must respect Catholic teaching and morals.
According to the Catholic News Agency the diocese would not be drawn on the case, saying that personnel matters are confidential under diocesan policy and cannot be discussed specifically.
'Personnel who choose to publicly espouse relationships or principles that are contrary to the teachings of the Catholic Church cannot, ultimately, remain in the employ of the Church," the spokesperson added.
But Carla Hale, the physical education teacher who was fired by the school, had the action taken against her after an anonymous parent informed them that her partner's name had appeared in her mother's obituary.
Hale had taught for 19 years at Bishop Watterson High School in Columbus before the firing occurred on Holy Thursday.
Hale told the CBS TV she was shocked to discover she has been fired over her relationship, when she had never discussed her sexual orientation or her partner with other students or teachers.
'I don’t think I’m immoral, I don’t think I've done anything that’s unethical,' she said.
Her attorney has said they plan to file a civil rights complaint with the City of Columbus’ community relations committee. Meanwhile a Change.org petition to reinstate her has attracted more than 105,919 supporters.
But to date, despite the impressive opposition, the diocese is not backing down. 'The Catholic Church respects the fundamental dignity of all persons but also must insist that those in its employ respect the tenets of the Church,' the spokesman said.
The school's principal reportedly explained to Hale that her termination was not due to the fact that she was a lesbian, but because she was in a relationship with another woman, an action that violates Church teaching.
The diocese's firing action clearly violates a citywide non-discrimination ordinance, but it's believed that current jurisprudence could protect the diocese from legal action.
Violators of the ordinance can be criminally prosecuted for a first-degree misdemeanor and can face up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine, but religious institutions in the state have yet to be prosecuted under it.
Meanwhile students and alum of Bishop Watterson High have created a petition over the firing and has garnered over a hundred thousand signatures.
'The school claims its mission is to teach its students about love, acceptance and tolerance, and yet it did none of this in the way it treated Ms. Hale,' the petition says.
Hale told the Ohio Dispatch this week that she has been humbled and overwhelmed by the support.