The firing of Michael Griffin by Holy Ghost Preparatory School in Bucks County was distressing.
The private Catholic school fired the popular teacher after it found out he’d applied for a marriage license in New Jersey. Griffin, you see, is gay.
Beyond distressing, I’d go so far as to say it was un-Christian.
But that is a very different thing from saying it was illegal.
Holy Ghost can make a strong argument, from the Constitution and mounds of case law, that its action is fully protected by the First Amendment. You know, the part that tells government to keep its meddling paws off of religion.
Plentiful court precedents on what’s called the “ministerial exception” suggest that Holy Ghost has the legal leeway to can Griffin.
This is a First Amendment issue. Now, we all tend to pick and choose among amendments in the Bill of Rights, stressing the ones that fit our preferences, trying to downplay those that don’t.
People do that even inside the First Amendment, that jam-packed, consequential paragraph.
Lots of liberals who celebrate what the First has to say about the freedom of speech and the press tend to skip over the part about protecting the free exercise of religion.
According to Holy Ghost Prep, in firing Griffin it is just exercising its First Amendment right to religious expression. Its employment contract with its teachers is explicit that they must uphold the teachings of the Catholic Church. Case law is clear that religious employers can do such things.
(A thought test: While the rules are different for secular bosses, would you expect, say, the Sierra Club to want to retain an employee who gave a publicized speech claiming that climate change was bunk?)
Now, when it comes to gays, I’d argue that the Catholic Church’s teaching is not well-founded in the Gospel. I might even argue that the school is practicing cafeteria Catholicism, cracking down on a gay teacher while not pursuing others who in their private lives violate other church tenets, say, the one against adultery.
But none of that matters under the law. Religious employers have exemptions from rules against discrimination that no secular boss enjoys.
On balance, I think that’s right. It’s better for individuals, the nation and the diversity of religious expression that this door to government meddling in church affairs remain locked.
It’s surely not fair to Michael Griffin. It’s a terrible way to witness to the teachings of Jesus just weeks before we celebrate his birth.
But, under the First Amendment, it’s how we roll in these United States of America. And thank God for that.