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Law & the Courts

Bad News for Religious Liberty: Court Rules Christian School Has to Hire Married Gay Man

It’s just a trial court ruling (so far), but this is ominous:

A state court in Massachusetts has ruled that a Catholic preparatory school violated the state’s antidiscrimination law when it rescinded a job offer to a man because he was married to another man.

Matthew Barrett had accepted a job as Food Service Director at the Fontbonne Academy, a Catholic girls school. On his employment forms, he listed his husband as his emergency contact — a move that led the school to rescind the job offer.

The Court’s reasoning was absurd, rejecting the schools’ expressive association argument in part because the school was “free” (for now, anyway) to explain that hiring Barrett was merely “involuntary compliance with civil law.” By that standard, expressive association becomes meaningless. After all, if a court can jam Christian employers with employees who don’t share their values — and then contend that the employers’ rights are protected if they’re still free to complain about it — then the floodgates are open. Moreover, it’s disturbing to see a court substitute its own judgment for a Christian organization’s determination of what constitutes a “serious” burden on its religious expression. Even worse, the court held that even if the school could establish a serious burden on its expression, the state had a “compelling governmental interest” in eliminating discrimination, effectively crushing the school’s First Amendment rights.

Yet the right of expressive association depends on an understanding that people are expression. The best ambassadors for any given point of view are the people who actually believe what they’re saying and believe in the organization’s mission and purpose. This is all constitutional common sense, of course. But this case has nothing to do with the Constitution and everything to do with the intolerance of the sexual revolutionaries. Consider this howler from Bennett Klein, Barrett’s lawyer:

“Since the advent of marriage equality, we have seen efforts by religiously affiliated organizations to expand the grounds for exemptions from the obligation of nondiscrimination. The court’s ruling … affirms that a religious employer has no greater constitutional right to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation than it does to discriminate on the basis of a person’s race or sex.”

“Expand” the grounds for exemptions? Really? Religiously-affiliated organizations have always sought to hire individuals who either share a commitment to the organization’s mission — or at least don’t directly flout the organization’s values. What’s “expanding” is the LGBT lobby’s ambition to use the power of the state to crush dissent. Or, as Reason’s Scott Shackleford put it, “Now that government discrimination is largely tamed, gay activists are going after private behavior, using the government as a bludgeon.”

I hope and expect Fontbonne Academy will appeal. This case bears watching.

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