Monday, March 8, 2010

Controversy in Boulder

On Thursday, Colorado TV station 9News broke the story that the Sacred Heart of Jesus School, a Roman Catholic school in Boulder, would not allow a student to return next year because his parents are a lesbian couple.  The story has since taken off and developed a life of its own.  I thought I would survey some of the reaction to the school's decision.

As an initial matter, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Denver (which has ultimate authority over the school's policies and decisions), defended the decision, saying, according to Catholic News Agency, that “Parents living in open discord with Catholic teaching in areas of faith and morals unfortunately choose by their actions to disqualify their children from enrollment.” 

I found some interesting comments on Towelroad.com, a Website that describes itself as "A site with homosexual tendencies."  Maybe the most interesting comment I found there was the one that questioned whether the Church would now refrain from enrolling children of parents who are divorced, remarried, or using contraceptives.   

I found strong support for the school's decision on a website called Les Femmes -- The Truth: Looking at Life from a Catholic Point of View.  There, "Mary Ann" writes:

So a big public thank-you to Archbishop Charles Chaput and the administrators of Sacred Heart. Spend a minute to say a prayer for all involved in the decision and send the Archdiocese of Denver a big thank-you for upholding Catholic truth.

I believe the controversy highlights one of several current conflicts in law and religion -- or maybe society and religion.  We would all agree that the school has not broken the law.  I'll go one step further and say that as a minister of religion myself and as the former Religious Liberty Director of the New York Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, I believe the Sacred Heart of Jesus School and the Archdiocese of Denver have every right to formulate and implement school policy in keeping with the tenets and teachings of the Roman Catholic Church.  Yet, how do we reconcile this right with our desire to promote and live in a society free of discrimination?  How do we reconcile our view that Sacred Heart of Jesus School is right to stand on Church teachings and refuse to re-admit the student with the Supreme Court's decision in Bob Jones University v. United States, 461 U.S. 574 (1983)?

We may argue that because sexual orientation is not a "protected class," no public policy arguments could be made to strip the Roman Catholic Church -- or any church, for that matter -- from its Tax-exempt status for denying school admission to children of gay and lesbian parents or -- to make the argument I found on Towelroad.com -- children whose parents are divorced, remarried, or who use contraceptives.  But what if, ten or twenty years in the future, sexual orientation were to become a protected class; would churches who stand on what they see as religious principles lose their tax- exempt status?

I'm sorting through this issue in a chapter of my new book (Current Conflicts in Law and Religion).  I'd welcome your comments and feedback, either on the Blog or at my e-mail -- [email protected].  Thanks. 

VEJ 


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