Court Rules Catholic School Violated Rights of Fired Administrator

In a troubling ruling, a Massachusetts court ruled against a Catholic school for violating a man's rights when it refused to hire him after it became known that he was legally married to another man.

In 2013, The Fontbonne Academy in Milton, Massachusetts had originally offered a man, Matthew Barrett, a job as food services director but when he filled out his emergency contact information he listed another man whom he was legally married to. The school then told him that he couldn't work for the Catholic school, after all.

Of course, a lawsuit ensued. And the judge in this case, Associate Justice Douglas H. Wilkins, rejected the distinction that the school attempted to make which was that their decision had nothing to do with the man's sexual orientation but about the Church's teaching on marriage. “It is no answer to say that Fontbonne denied Barrett employment because he was in a same-sex marriage, not because of his sexual orientation,” he reportedly wrote in his ruling. “The law recognizes no such distinction.”

The judge also dismissed the school's claim to a “ministerial exception," saying Barrett's job as food director had nothing to do with the Catholic school's religious mission. I'm a little unclear how this judge took it upon himself to decide what was and wasn't a part of the Catholic school's religious mission. Oh wait, he's a judge so he knows best, right?

Judge Wilkins ruled that “to apply the ‘ministerial’ exception here would allow all religious schools to exempt all of their employees from employment discrimination laws simply by calling their employees ministers.”

But that's kind of the point of the ministerial exception. In fact, the U.S. Supreme Court, in Hosanna-Tabor v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, severely restricted the right of the government to decide for a religious school who is and who is not considered a minister. The Supreme Court ruled unanimously, specifically saying that it is "impermissible for the government to contradict a church's determination of who can act as its ministers."

The decision by a judge in Massachusetts would seem to fly in the face of the Supreme Court's decision.

No word yet on whether the school will appeal the decision. Let's hope they do because this is more than a camel's nose under the tent. This ruling is a disaster for all religious institutions.