Analysis: The New Morality Scolds

Who, exactly, is entitled to free speech?

BY Michael O'Loughlin

May 15 2014 3:25 PM ET

In response to the Cincinnati teacher contract, a lay Catholic group called the Greater Cincinnati Voice of the Faithful has taken out 12 of these billboards around the city.

In Sunday’s New York Times, columnist Frank Bruni took on the Catholic Church, one of his favorite targets, in a column titled “Lessons in Catholic Judgment.”

Bruni, the paper’s first openly gay columnist, slammed the Archdiocese of Cincinnati for making teachers in Catholic schools there sign contracts that ban, among other activities, “public support” for a “homosexual lifestyle.”

“In what the document does and doesn’t spell out, it sends the tired message that virtue resides in whom you share your bed with and how you do or don’t procreate,” Bruni wrote.

For their part, Archdiocese of Cincinnati officials say this type of behavior has always been prohibited, but the new contracts simply spell out examples of forbidden activity. It’s hardly alone.

Catholic dioceses throughout the U.S. are seeking ways to protect their institutions from antidiscrimination suits and keep openly LGBT people away from leadership positions. This closing academic year has seen several high-profile cases of teachers and administrators fired because they have married their same-sex partners.

Bruni talked to employees in Cincinnati who won’t be signing the contract, afraid that publicly supporting causes such as abortion rights or even posting photos of gay family members on Facebook might be grounds for dismissal.

Related: Loopholes for Catholic Schools?

“Over recent days I spoke with [Mike Moroski, an administrator fired for supporting marriage equality] and other former and current employees of Catholic schools in the Cincinnati area. They wondered why religion gets to trump free speech,” Bruni wrote.

While the decision to designate some teachers as ministers in an attempt to circumvent antidiscrimination laws is questionable, does the Catholic Church, as a private employer, have a right to hire and fire its own employees based on speech?

When Brendan Eich was removed as CEO from Mozilla, for a $2,000 contribution to a campaign aiming to repeal marriage equality in California, some commentators expressed worry that speech rights were being trampled. But most on the left who support marriage equality were quick to point out that the First Amendment affords protection from the government in matters of speech, but not a guarantee of employment.

Mozilla, they said, has a right to hire and fire employees based on shared values.

Do those individuals support the Catholic Church in its own personnel decisions based on shared values, even if they disagree with the church?

This week another college commencement speaker decided not to appear after an outcry from students.

International Monetary Fund managing director Christine Lagarde withdrew from a speaking role at Smith College after some students protested, citing policies at the IMF that they find distasteful.

Earlier this year Rutgers University announced that former Secretary of State Condeleeza Rice wouldn’t speak at that school’s commencement, after similar student protests.

Two respected public servants won’t be able to share ideas with graduates because their views don’t perfectly mirror those of a portion of the audience.

When it comes to issues of speech, is there a growing and powerful minority on the left that preaches tolerance and diversity but then doesn’t live up to its own ideals? Are institutions that are progressive on issues of sexuality and economics the only ones entitled to free speech? Will minority viewpoints be welcome in the public square, or will the left become the new scolds of public morality?

Follow Michael O’Loughlin on Twitter at @mikeoloughlin

Tags: Religion

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