Ohio Catholic School Teachers Required to Sign Morality Clause

Following a series of high-profile cases around the country where gay and lesbian individuals were fired from Catholic schools after marrying their partners, the Archdiocese of Cincinnati has rolled out a new employment contract with an extensive morality clause that attempts to police the private lives and public expression of Catholic school employees.

The contracts instruct employees to refrain from “conduct or lifestyle that’s in contradiction to Catholic doctrine or morals,” including:

improper use of social media/communication, public support of or publicly living together outside marriage, public support of or sexual activity out of wedlock, public support of or homosexual lifestyle, public support of or use of abortion, public support of or use of a surrogate mother, public support of or use of in vitro fertilization or artificial insemination, public membership in organizations whose mission and message are incompatible with Catholic doctrine or morals, and/or flagrant deceit or dishonesty.”

The new contract is “doubled in size and is strikingly different from previous Archdiocese teacher employment agreements,” reports the Cincinnati Enquirer. The archdiocese said the new contract was required to clear up any confusion about what was expected of employees of a Catholic school. No word from the diocese on how it intends to police who is saying what on Twitter, who is living with whom, who is sleeping with whom, who is getting abortions and/or what assisted reproductive technologies they use. Last year an assistant principal in the diocese was fired for a comment he made on his blog supporting gay marriage.

Importantly, the new contract declares all teachers “ministerial employees” of the diocese. The 2012 Hosanna-Tabor Supreme Court decision gave religious employers broad latitude to fire employees performing “ministerial” functions extending beyond actual ministers, who traditionally are exempt from religious nondiscrimination rules. Last year the Archdiocese of Cincinnati had to pay an unmarried teacher $171,000 after it fired her for becoming pregnant via artificial insemination. The archdiocese argued unsuccessfully that the teacher was a ministerial employee.

Writing in the National Catholic Reporter, Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of the Catholic LGBT rights group DignityUSA, says that the new contract is an expression of the increased tension “between personal call and institutional policy” in the Catholic Church as same-sex marriage has become more widespread:

Clearly, church officials believe they can intimidate employees into living in deep, dark closets or into an exodus from working for the church….Rather than waiting for LGBT people to be fired, we need to prevent these contracts from being rolled out and make it clear that they violate the many beautiful pronouncements on the dignity of work and workers’ rights our church is known for.

If the Archdiocese of Cincinnati is successful in making all teachers de facto ministerial employees without any labor protections other dioceses will likely follow suit. In the short run such contracts may give the institutional church a sense of control over rapidly evolving cultural norms, like the acceptance of gay marriage. But in the long run you have to wonder where they think they are going to find non-cohabitating, gay-marriage opposing, reproductive technology-shunning teachers who don’t run afoul of their vision of morality.

Patricia Miller is the author of Good Catholics: The Battle over Abortion in the Catholic Church. Her work on the intersection of sex, religion, and politics has appeared in The Nation, Ms., and Huffington Post. She was the editor of Conscience magazine and the editor-in-chief of the National Journal’s health care briefings.