A New Jersey Catholic high school is being sued for firing a beloved guidance counselor and basketball coach because of her “odious” gay lifestyle.
This was the revealing word choice of Rev. Thomas Nydegger, second-in-command to Archbishop John J. Myers. We’ll get to that. First, though, there is a church v. state debate.
The Newark Archdiocese argues Kate Drumgoole wasn’t fired from Paramus Catholic because she was gay, but because she violated church tenets by entering into a same-sex marriage. It says this falls under an exception to the state’s anti-discrimination law that protects religious freedom, and that the First Amendment also guards religion against government meddling.
Drumgoole says this isn’t a First Amendment issue because she wasn’t involved in teaching religion. She says she was fired not because of her marriage but because of her sexual orientation, which is discrimination under state law.
How far we allow religion to go is a genuinely difficult legal question. What if a religion holds that races should not mix, as many Christian churches once did? Should that church have the right to fire teachers based on race? When does a claim of religious freedom become an excuse to justify bigotry?
Regardless of the legal debate, though, one thing is certain: The archdiocese has acted abysmally. Since learning that Drumgoole is gay, after photos of her 2014 wedding were circulated by a vindictive relative, the archdiocese has referred to her as “a poor role model.”
That’s rich. Countless teachers, parents and students at Paramus Catholic have vouched for her admirable leadership. Drumgoole was once a two-time captain and star player of the Paramus Catholic girls’ basketball team. She had risen through the ranks at her alma mater, and recently been promoted to an administrative role.
Myers, meanwhile, was protecting pedophile priests and using church money to build himself an opulent retirement mansion, while removing a popular gay priest from Seton Hall against the will of parishioners, accusing him of having an “agenda.” Right.
Myers’ second-in-command, Rev. Nydegger, wrote that Drumgoole’s former work as a guidance counselor “makes her gay marriage and gay lifestyle (whether overt or covert) particularly odious.”
Odious, as defined by Merriam Webster online, is “deserving hatred or repugnance.” So what Nydegger said is, quite literally, hateful.
Contrast that with what Pope Francis said about gay priests: “Who am I to judge?” The Pope argues the first purpose of the church is to proclaim God’s merciful love for all people, and says it should seek forgiveness from gays for the way it has treated them.
Drumgoole’s firing is the perfect example. Thousands of Paramus Catholic alumni expressed outrage in a letter to school administrators: “You institutionalize the kind of oppressive worldview that leads students to bully and verbally abuse other students based on their sexual orientation,” their petition says.
More than 50 gay or lesbian people across the nation have been fired or had employment offers rescinded since 2010, New Ways Ministry, an advocacy group for gay, lesbian and transgender Catholics, told the Bergen Record.
The church’s hypocrisy is striking. Other faculty members at Paramus Catholic are divorced and remarried, at least one has a child out of wedlock, some cohabitate with members of the opposite sex, at least one other teacher is gay, and nude photographs of another teacher have been circulated online, according to Drumgoole’s lawsuit.
None of those teachers have been fired for violating church tenets. Drumgoole, apparently, was singled out. Her lifestyle is not “particularly odious” because of church tenets — it’s because of church bigotry.
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