The Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn has come under fire in The New York Times for terminating the employment of a music teacher who entered into a same-sex “marriage.”
According to the Times, the Diocese let go of Mr. Matthew LaBanca last month after he held a same-sex ceremony with his male partner over the summer. Mr. LaBanca taught music at a Catholic school in the Diocese and also worked as a music director at a Catholic parish. The Diocese acknowledged that Mr. LaBanca was let go due to his same-sex “wedding.”
The Times notes that New York State and New York City bar employers from engaging in discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. (Last year, in Bostock v. Clayton County, the Supreme Court of the United States incorrectly ruled that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity was illegal under Title VII’s ban on sex discrimination.) The Times adds that there is an exception to this ban that allows religious institutions more leeway in regard to employees whose duties have a religious (or “ministerial”) component (see Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morrissey-Berru). However, the Times casts a disapproving eye upon this ministerial exception and accuses the Catholic Church of using it to “target L.G.B.T. people while other employees whose lives do not align with church teachings go unpunished.”
Mr. LaBanca, who is Catholic, has made his situation public because he believes that the Diocese’s position is unfair and hypocritical. He accuses the Diocese of overlooking other deviations from church teaching amongst its employees, and he adds that he made no secret of his sexuality during his employment with the Diocese. Furthermore, Mr. LaBanca contends that he never signed a contract acknowledging his ministerial status.
This story offers several takeaways for Christians, churches, and Christian organizations. First, action by the Supreme Court to expand and clarify the ministerial exception would be welcome. Under the First Amendment, churches have every right to discipline employees who are unwilling to abide by church teaching. Second, it is wise for churches and Christian organizations to protect themselves from situations like this one by having their employees sign contracts in which they acknowledge that their duties involve ministry at some level, even if they are not clergy. Third, churches—for reasons both moral and practical—should be consistent in their approach to employee transgressions, and should not turn a blind eye to them until they become public.
Most importantly, however, Christians must enter the public square and push back against the notion that there is something unfair about a church firing an employee who blatantly and publicly violates church teaching. If an employee does not wish to abide by the teachings of a church or a church-affiliated employer, that person is free not to work for that employer. In this instance, Mr. LaBanca’s problem is self-created.