Teachers in Catholic schools have long been forbidden to contradict church dogma. But it is only now that a new six-page contract, which must be signed by all teachers under the supervision of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, specifically enumerates the topics (“Lessons in Catholic Judgment,” The New York Times, May 11).
The list predictably involves sex-related issues, including the sins of homosexuality, abortion, in vitro fertilization, pre-marital sex and living together outside of marriage. It does not matter that Catholic schools also employ teachers who are Jewish, Protestant and non-believers. The Archdiocese of Cincinnati calls the employment agreement a “teacher-minister contract.” Doing so protects all religious organizations from anti-discrimination lawsuits in hiring and firing under what is known as ministerial exception.
I have high regard for the work that Catholic schools do for many of the 2,314,397 students enrolled. Despite declining numbers, they are still the largest non-government provider, offering a lifeline for minorities who would otherwise have no choice but to return to failing neighborhood public schools. By the same token, I respect the decision by teachers to teach there. But I have to raise two questions.
First, can a real education be provided by teachers who are contractually prevented from addressing certain issues? I’ve always believed that teachers should be allowed to pursue the truth. I realize that certain topics are not age-appropriate. But that aside, avoiding them solely because they are proscribed is more indoctrination than education. For example, can teachers in Catholic schools deny creationism and not be fired?
Second, should Catholic schools be legally permitted to accept public money in the form of vouchers under the separation of church and state? The U.S. Supreme Court held in Zelman v. Simmons-Harris in 2002 that as long as aid goes directly to parents, rather than to religious schools, it is not unconstitutional. I still view the ruling as a clever end run around the principle because 37 states have what are known collectively as the Blaine amendments, flatly banning the use of government aid to Catholic schools.
In light of all that is now known, teachers have to decide for themselves if signing the new contract is too high a price to pay for continued employment.
The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner’s Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.