Educator Carla Hale remains terminated from Bishop Watterson High School in Columbus, even though support for her continues to grow and legal action against the Columbus Diocese commences. Over the last week, there have been a number of developments in this story, and this blog post will give you a round-up in three areas: legal action, response from the bishop, student and alumni reactions.
Legal Action Commences
Hale, a lesbian woman outed in her mother’s obituary, has since filed a complaint with the City of Columbus claiming the firing violated anti-discrimination laws. The Columbus Dispatch reports:
“Commissioners [of the Columbus Community Relations Commission] could decide within a few months whether the diocese violated the city’s ordinance that protects employees from discriminatory treatment for a range of reasons that include sexual orientation.
“If the commission decides that the diocese discriminated against Hale, the case could be forwarded to the office of City Attorney Richard C. Pfeiffer Jr., which would decide whether to prosecute.”
Ms. Hale is also working with the local Catholic teachers union to try to return to educating students as she has for the past nineteen years. Her legal case raises constitutional questions about the relationship between church and state, and will largely hinge on what role she provides within Catholic education:
“The Cincinnati and Tabor cases both deal with the ‘ministerial exception,’ which says that religious institutions are exempt from anti-discrimination laws when hiring employees who teach church doctrine.
“’Churches have the ability to decide who will minister their faith according to the dictates of the faith,’ [Ohio State University law professor Marc] Spindelman said. He said there are arguments on each side. The church might argue that all teachers at Bishop Watterson participate in its religious mission to mold not only good students but also good Catholics, he said.
“But the school also knew that Hale was a Methodist and was employed to teach physical education, not Catholicism, Spindelman said. ‘Is she more like the priest, or more like the person who comes in to change the lights or answer the switchboard?'”
Bishop Defends Firing
Bishop Frederick Campbell of the Columbus Diocese spoke publicly on the matter, claiming the firing was a matter of protecting the Catholic faith’s integrity. The Columbus Dispatch reports:
“Campbell said earlier in the day that Hale was not fired because of her sexual orientation but because her ‘quasi-spousal relationship’ with another woman violates the church’s moral teaching. He said Hale violated a teacher contract and Roman Catholic Diocese of Columbus policy that prohibits immoral behavior and requires employees to follow general church tenets.”
The bishop has been careful to link the firing to the obituary for Ms. Hale’s mother which listed her female partner, and focused his remarks on the now public nature of their relationship. However, not all believe this explanation is acceptable:
“Hale’s attorney, Thomas Tootle, has said he sees no distinction between Hale’s sexual orientation and her relationship status. He argued that neither the teacher contract nor the diocesan policy specifically bound Hale, a Methodist, to abide by church tenets or to practice Catholicism.”
Critics have questioned the bishop’s position, including the father of a current Bishop Watterson student. That father was ejected from a major donors dinner after expressing concerns that Bishop’s Campbell’s position causes more suffering on students. After receiving threats, including from the hacker group Anonymous which has threatened diocesan officials with the release of potentially embarrassing unspecified information, the high school is now paying for a police officer to patrol during classes.
As the Bishop’s Annual Appeal commences this week, many other donors are refusing to donate due to the firing of Carla Hale and may instead place mock checks in the collection plate.
Student & Alumni Reactions
Students and supporters are speaking out, using social media to generate interest in the Hale controversy and also witnessing outside Columbus diocesan offices. The Columbus Dispatch reports:
“As cars passed the [diocesan] offices on Gay Street, the students held poster-board signs with messages: ‘Come together,’ ‘We are all children of God’ and ‘#halestorm,’ the Twitter hashtag used to support Hale. Many wore rainbow ribbons or buttons incorporating an equals sign into the Watterson crest.
“Senior Zac Simmons said he was demonstrating because he wanted his voice to be heard.
“’She’d always be there for us, and I just want to be there for her,’ he said of Hale.”
Alumni of Bishop Watterson High School are also speaking out against the injustice of Ms. Hale’s termination. William Klatt hosted an evening for alumni and those interested in labor rights as both an education on recent events and planning for how to support Carla Hale now. His sister, Anna, is asking the Columbus diocese to own its discriminatory actions while pointing to the widespread youth support for the fired teacher. This Week reports:
“‘Catholic leadership may be stuck in outdated, harmful beliefs, but its youth are not,’ Anna Klatt wrote.”
New Ways Ministry continues expressing its support for Ms. Hale, and echoes the youth voices of Bishop Watterson students and alumni who are witnessing to a church and society where everyone is equal. For a full history of events, view recent Bondings 2.0 posts below:
April 24, 2013: Fired Lesbian Teacher Offers Hope Through Vulnerability
-Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry