Thursday, January 23, 2014

What's Sauce for the Goose

There's an interesting article up at The Nation today, about a vice principal at a parochial school in Seattle who was fired in December when he married another man.  Students at the school protested, and the protest spread to other schools whose students "took action by organizing their own protests and banner drops to demonstrate their solidarity."

The Church's justification for firing Mark Zmuda is simple enough: same-sex marriage violates Catholic doctrine, he knew that as an administrator in a Catholic school he must conform to that doctrine, but he violated it, so he's out.  As far as I can tell from the article, Zmuda accepted his termination without protest: it was students who objected, and they are appealing to the judgment of the Church and its personnel, not trying to get the State to intervene on Zmuda's behalf.

The first thing I thought of when I read this article was the suspension of Duck Dynasty's Phil Robertson for saying bigoted things in a promotional interview last month.  Robertson was quickly reinstated and the show began a new season, though its ratings in the new season have dropped significantly in the wake of the controversy.

After Robertson was suspended, many liberals pointed out that according to his contract with A&E, he could be fired for saying the sort of things he said, and that was just fine with them.  So I wonder how they will react to the very similar firing of Mark Zmuda, who must have known that he was going against Church doctrine, and his employer has the right to fire him, not just legally but morally -- right?

The writers of the Nation article have no qualms.
Some claim that the Archdiocese of Seattle was within its right to fire Zmuda, pointing out the rights and freedoms guaranteed to religious institutions. But what about the basic rights and freedoms of LGBTQ people to be treated equally with respect and dignity? Religious freedom need not entail the right to practice and promote discrimination.
Oh, really? That's exactly what it entails: churches can practice and promote discrimination in many areas -- they are generally granted an exemption from many provisions of civil rights laws.  (And don't forget that non-religious employers have a great deal of discriminatory power in their treatment of employees.  There's little question that A&E trampled on Phil Robertson's civil rights by suspending him for expressing his no doubt sincerely-held beliefs about homosexuality, especially since they probably knew about them all along.)  Churches can discriminate in who they ordain as clergy, for example: they can limit the honor to members of their denomination, and can require them to hold and express orthodox beliefs; they can discriminate on the basis of sex and probably race, let alone sexual orientation.  They can restrict their clergy's sexual practices and relationships.  So Mark Zmuda's firing is not a surprise.

On the other hand, as usual in cases like this, I wonder if the Church is being selective in its strictness.  Are all the staff of its parochial schools Catholic?  Are they all either chastely single or appropriately married?  None of them, I hope, are divorced (let alone remarried), none are living in sin with heterosexual partners.  I suppose that Mark Zmuda lived with his partner for some time before they got legally married, and I'd be surprised if no one at the school or in the Archbishop's office knew about it.  So hypocrisy, as usual, is probably operative here, but that doesn't change the fact that the Church was within its legal rights to fire Zmuda, though not necessarily in the right ethically.

The Nation article is titled "What the LBGT Movement Can Learn from Seattle High School Students," but it never really tells what the movement can learn.  Contrary to the writers' implications, these kids aren't doing anything new, nothing that the LBGT movement hasn't done many times in the past.  I suppose the answer lies near the end of the piece: "Zmuda’s story is an example of why passing a comprehensive Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA)—one which does not exempt religious institutions, is of paramount importance to combating discrimination."  I doubt very much that Congress could or would pass an ENDA that didn't include a religious exemption, so this recommendation is rather nutty.  I doubt that GLBT churches like the Metropolitan Community Church would favor a law that didn't grant them the same exemptions that heterosexual churches enjoy.  Change in any church must come from within, not from the state, and I certainly favor and support the protest the Seattle students have mounted.  They're actually a lot like the Civil Rights Movement in its heyday, appealing to the conscience of their opponents rather than trying to get the State to intervene.  While I favor legal changes, I also hold that any movement for social justice must not limit itself to working with the courts and the legislature: it must also work to change people's attitudes by persuasion and example.