By Tim Peacock
Michael Griffin & his former employer
On the heels of New Jersey's decision to legalize same sex marriage, Pennsylvania high school teacher Michael Griffin decided to marry his partner of 12 years. Unfortunately for Griffin, his employer - Holy Ghost Preparatory School in Bensalem, PA - disagreed with his decision and terminated his employment on Friday. Citing his employment contract, the school stated that his decision to obtain a marriage license to marry someone of the same sex "contradicts the terms of his teaching contract."
Griffin announced the termination on his Facebook page yesterday saying:
"Today I applied for a marriage license since NJ now has marriage equality. After 12 years together I was excited to finally be able to marry my partner. Because of that, I was fired from Holy Ghost Preparatory School today. I am an alumnus of the school and have taught there for 12 years. I feel hurt, saddened, betrayed and except for this post, am at a loss for words. If you'd like to share your words with my principal or headmaster, please do. firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com"
In a written statement to the press Fr. James McCloskey, he school’s headmaster, said:
"At a meeting in my office yesterday, teacher Michael Griffin made clear that he obtained a license to marry his same sex partner. Unfortunately, this decision contradicts the terms of his teaching contract at our school, which requires all faculty and staff to follow the teachings of the Church as a condition of their employment. In discussion with Mr. Griffin, he acknowledged that he was aware of this provision, yet he said that he intended to go ahead with the ceremony. Regretfully, we informed Mr. Griffin that we have no choice but to terminate his contract effective immediately."
The section of the school's code McCloskey claimed Griffin violated states:
"That, although, the School welcomes teachers from other denominations and recognizes their rights to religious freedom, as employees of a Catholic institution, all teachers are expected to uphold lifestyles compatible with the moral teaching of the Roman Catholic Church."
In a follow-up statement to his Facebook page after the news of his termination made local news, Griffin said:
"Thank you to everyone for all of your messages of love and support since yesterday. It is so overwhelming and my heart aches over everything that has happened. Holy Ghost helped form me to be the person that I am today. Even though I am no longer employed there, I wanted to share their mission and philosophy, because I feel like I have tried to make it my life's philosophy as best I can, even now. I am trying to move forward with a peaceful heart and wish nothing but the best to my colleagues and students who mean the world to me."
Griffin's termination follows several other high profile educational firings nationwide over stances on LGBT rights including Carla Hale in Ohio and Mike Moroski (also in Ohio). The key component in each of these terminations is the church's insistence that their religion explicitly contains codified beliefs that LGBT rights (especially marriage) are wrong (despite the fact that many LGBT-positive churches exist across the religious spectrum that say otherwise). While the legalities of terminations vary widely nationwide (as most cities and states lack ENDA-level protections against terminations for LGBT status), legal experts say deeper constitutional issues exist in these situations.
Mark Brown, a professor at Capital University Law School, spoke on the subject earlier this year when Carla Hale was terminated from her teaching position. "All she’s got in terms of government protection is that Columbus ordinance," he said. Marc Spindelman, a professor at Ohio State University’s Moritz College of Law added to that. "It sits on important and deeper sets of not just city-ordinance rules but deeper constitutional rules," he said. "Those clashes of deep principle, which often get worked out as constitutional decisions, are what’s underlying here."
In the mean time, based on his second statement, it looks as if Griffin will not be pursuing legal action against the school as he wished them well as he moves forward. Perhaps schools like Holy Ghost could take a lesson in Christian behavior from Griffin.