A Catholic school in Ohio is not renewing the contract of a longtime teacher allegedly because that teacher is in a same-gender marriage.
Archbishop Alter High School is in Kettering, a suburb of Cincinnati, and is owned by the Archdiocese of Cincinnati. Dayton Daily News reported on this employment dispute regarding a teacher who was unnamed in the news stories:
“Alter Principal Lourdes Lambert said the contract decision was made by officials at the Archdiocese of Cincinnati after someone sent a ‘concern’ about the teacher directly to the office of Archbishop Dennis Schnurr.
“Lambert said she was not trying to duck responsibility, saying, ‘I’m the Archdiocese, too.’ She said she has not been told who the concern came from, but confirmed it had nothing to do with any incident between the teacher and students at the Kettering school. . .
“‘It’s a very unfortunate circumstance for the teacher and the Alter community,’ Lambert said. ‘Some things are taken out of our hands as an Archdiocese-owned school.'”
The teacher declined to comment for the newspaper. No explanation of the complainant’s “concern” was provided.
A student-organized Change.org petition, says the teacher is Jim Zimmerman, a faculty member in the English department. The petition says the teacher’s contract is not being renewed because he is in a same-gender marriage. Former student David Beck claimed on Facebook that someone found Zimmerman’s marriage certificate from 2016 and shared it with the Archdiocese. Beck commented, according to The Gaily Grind:
“How convenient that he is fired now, during the pandemic, as to sweep it so easily under the rug. If these reports are true, this is blatant discrimination, and we need to band together to stop it. . .I remember [teacher’s name removed] as a wonderful, kind teacher with a sense of humor and a creative spirit. . .He led the high school paper as well as Kairos, the senior retreat. He should not be fired for his marriage, which, let us remember, is guaranteed as a human right by the Constitution.”
A spokesperson for the Archdiocese, Jennifer Schack, refused to comment on a personnel matter, but stated:
“‘Our Catholic schools expect teachers and staff to be witnesses to the teaching of the Catholic Church in both word and deed. Public witness is a critical part of Catholic education. . .These expectations are clearly articulated in our teacher-minister contracts.'”
Those morality clauses in church worker contracts were implemented by the Archdiocese in 2014, and they include specific prohibitions on same-gender sexual activity and public support for LGBTQ people among other sexuality-related items. At least two other educators in Cincinnati, Molly Shumate and Mark Moroski, have lost their jobs in LGBTQ-related employment disputes.
Community members supporting the teacher are speaking out. Dayton Daily News reported:
“Several Alter High School graduates and supporters of the teacher argued on social media against the removal this week, with one calling the moving hypocritical and another saying she would stop donating to the school. Others praised the educator’s ability as a teacher, while one said the teacher displayed ‘Jesus’ teachings of love and acceptance.'”
The petition seeks to have the teacher reinstated has gained more than 4,200 signatures, and it reads, in part:
“He is the favorite teacher for many of the students and well known by students who don’t even have him in class. He is a teacher who does not just teach the curriculum but also teaches important life lessons. His class is always fun to be in and is constantly entertaining his student keeping them engaged, he has puzzle Fridays which almost everyone loves. . .
“The Church has always told me and my fellow students to love and accept others. 1 Peter 4:8, ‘Above all, LOVE each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.’ Also, In Romans 15:7 it says, ‘Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepts you, in order to bring praise to God.’ But what the Archdiocese is doing is not accepting nor loving Mr. Zimmerman but pushing him away just because who he loves. Mr. Zimmerman acknowledges the love that everyone should have because he himself is a Christian.”
The newspaper reported that the teacher, an alumnus of the school and who has taught there for two decades, is employed through the end of this academic year.
The unjust terminations of LGBTQ church workers are painful under normal circumstances (there have been more than 100 of these LGBTQ-related church employment disputes made public in the last decade). But to not renew a teacher’s contract during this time of COVID-19 and economic recession is particularly egregious. It defies church teachings not only on non-discrimination and on the just treatment of lesbian and gay people, but on the rights of workers and economic justice, all of which are traded for a myopic obsession with policing sexuality pn the part of the archdiocese.
Despite Principal Lambert’s claim that this termination was “out of our hands,” Archbishop Alter High School administrators could have refused to participate in discrimination. At this point, they do have a good option: there is still time to reverse this decision and offer the teacher a new contract for next year.
For Bondings 2.0’s full coverage of church employment issues, click here or click the “Employment Issues” category on the right-hand side of this page. For New Ways Ministry’s resources on church employment and LGBTQ issues here.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, May 1, 2020