Marquis LaFortune, 25, has filed a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission after she was fired as a teacher with the Central Catholic High School in San Antonio for marrying Benjamin Stakes — a divorced man. The Catholic church forbids such marriages and had warned her that she would have to chose between teaching and love. This raises some very interesting questions of free exercise under the First Amendment.
The English teacher was pulled into the principal’s office to discuss the “scandal” and to be given the warning about her choice of fiances.
LaFortune was asked if Stakes first marriage had been annulled according to Church doctrine — a process that can take a year. It had not been.
Brother Peter Pontolillo defended the action: “We have very clear policies on what we expect from Catholic people on our faculty, and there has been a violation of that. When a person does something that is obviously contrary to everything that our Catholic school stands for, we cannot just look through our fingers.”
He may have a point. While I believe that this action by the Church is appalling, I do believe that religious organizations have a right to enforce religious dictates and values. This is likely to be a recurring problem as more states incorporate sexual orientation as a protected category under anti-discrimination law. Religious organizations are often based on a type of discriminating beliefs. If a church refuses to hire a gay person or confines jobs to members of its religion, it is a form of discrimination but it is also an expression of their faith. The Salvation Army recently was criticized for firing an officer who wanted to marry outside the ranks.
LaFortune’s misfortune began with a simple announcement in the school newspaper, The Pep, which noted “In addition to gaining a new last name, Ms. LaFortune will also be inheriting a beautiful stepdaughter.” That led to inquiries on Stakes’ status. Ironically, if he had had the child out of wedlock, it would not have been a problem.
Deacon Patrick Cunningham confronted LaFortune and gave her the cruel trilemma of annulment, resignation, or termination.
She chose a fourth option: litigation.
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