BOSTON — A state court in Massachusetts has ruled that a religious school in the state can’t decline to hire homosexuals for non-teaching positions despite their lifestyle being contrary to the school’s mission and beliefs.
In 2013, Matthew Barrett accepted a job as food service director at Fontbonne Academy in Milton, an all-girls school that is sponsored by the Roman Catholic Sisters of Saint Joseph of Boston. However, when he listed his “husband” as his emergency contact on his initial employment forms, the job offer was rescinded because his lifestyle ran contrary to the school’s values.
Barrett then sued the school, alleging discrimination. Fontbonne Academy argued that it had a right to hire those in accordance with Roman Catholic teachings, as it believes that homosexual behavior is sinful. It said that being forced to hire those engaged in open homosexuality would violate their First Amendment right to the free exercise of religion and freedom of association.
On Wednesday, Superior Court Associate Justice Douglas Wilkins ruled against Fontbonne Academy, agreeing that Barrett had been discriminated against. One of his reasons for ruling against the school was that Barrett was hired for a non-teaching position.
“As an educational institution, Fontbonne retains control over its mission and message,” Wilkins wrote. “It is not forced to allow Barrett to dilute that message, where he will not be a teacher, minister or spokesman for Fontbonne and has not engaged in public advocacy of same-sex marriage.”
He noted that the school also hires those that are not Roman Catholic, and that Barrett was never asked to sign a contract to live in accordance with the school’s values.
“He was not denied employment for any advocacy of same-sex marriage or gay rights; he only listed his husband as an emergency contact on a ‘new hire’ form,” Wilkins said.
Barrett applauded the decision, telling reporters, “What happened to me was wrong, and I truly hope it doesn’t happen to anyone else.”
But Roman Catholic groups and others said that they were disappointed with what the decision means for religious liberty.
“Religious liberty is guaranteed not only by the Free Exercise clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, but even more broadly, by Article II of the Declaration of Rights of the Massachusetts Constitution,” said Catholic Action League Executive Director C. J. Doyle in a statement. “Religious freedom consists not merely of the right to worship, but of the right of religious institutions to govern their internal affairs free of state interference.”
“Judge Wilkins’s decision would compel Catholic institutions to hire those who reject and despise Catholic teaching, fatally impairing the constitutionally protected right of those institutions to carry on their mission,” he continued. “This is precisely the sort of ‘excessive entanglement’ of government with religion decried and prohibited by the U.S. Supreme Court…”
Fontbonne Academy says that it is considering its appeal options.