Oakland Catholic Schools Now Require Personal Morality Pledge from Teachers

The San Francisco Chronicle, panicked that the Roman Catholic Church might be ready to fight for what it believes, reports that teachers at East Bay Catholic schools that are in the area of the Diocese of Oakland had to sign a pledge by Friday that they would live their lives outside of their jobs in accordance with Catholic teaching. The new contract states:

In both the employee's personal and professional life, the employee is expected to model and promote behavior in conformity with the teaching of the Roman Catholic faith in matters of faith and morals, and to do nothing that tends to bring discredit to the school or to the Diocese of Oakland.

Of the 1,217 teachers in the diocese, 18% are not Catholic. The new contracts were supposed to be signed by May 1, but some administrators gave the teachers more time.

The Chronicle worries:

State and federal employment law offers little protection from being fired for violating church teaching - sparking fear that teachers could lose their jobs for using contraception, having premarital sex, trying to conceive a child by artificial insemination or marrying someone of the same sex.

Of course, the Chronicle piece only quotes teachers who have trouble with the new provision, including Tim Newman, who said, "I will lose good teachers in my department," and Bonnie Sussman, a teacher at O’Dowd, who asserted of her colleagues:

A lot of them said, “I can't afford not to sign.” I'm in that category, too. I love O'Dowd. I don't want to leave. But the question is: Do you want to fight discrimination from within the system or from the outside. There are some fabulous teachers who in good conscience say, “I can't sign it.” And if that happens, ultimately, the Catholic Church loses out.

Diocese spokesman Mike Brown defended the Church, saying, "this is not a witch hunt." He added that the provision is Oakland Bishop Michael Barbers’s attempt to "be more clear about the contract … It simply states what was inferred before from a new bishop's perspective. There is no list of behaviors from this diocese."

In the Archdiocese of Cincinnati in 2014, a contract banned teachers from "public support of or publicly living together outside marriage, public support of or sexual activity out of wedlock, public support of or homosexual lifestyle." In Santa Rosa, California, Bishop Robert Vasa wanted to install a morality clause that called contraception, abortion, and gay marriage "modern errors" that "gravely offend human dignity." The Santa Rosa Press Democrat said he acted so that teachers fired for ignoring Catholic teaching would not sue the diocese. He later retracted the proposal.

Barber stated in March that California's bishops had been discussing "the importance of Catholic identity and especially how it is expressed in our Catholic schools... (A)n appropriate way to honor this commitment is to spell it out in the contract or work agreement each person signs each year."

David Rosenfeld of the UC Berkeley School of Law said that the new contract would be protected by the First Amendment. He added, "A private school like this has the right to impose any religious restrictions it wants. If they got wind that somebody was buying contraceptives, they could fire them." Still, he insisted, the new contract is "a bizarre, bizarre thing."

Newman, who is not Catholic, hadn’t signed the contract by Friday morning and worried how he would answer students and parents who might ask if a gay student would be accepted at the school. He said, "I always say, 'Yes.’ But now I'm kind of lying about that, in terms of what I sign."

And of course, the Chronicle found a parent upset about the new provision: Adam Byer, who said that if teachers were fired for not conforming to the new rules, he would "think long and hard if I want my daughter to be in that school."

Brown rejected an idea that was floated by teachers that the teachers work under the old contract this year while they negotiate changes with the diocese, saying, "It's clear that's not going to be the case. It's in each principal's best interest to know who will be teaching at the school in the fall."


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