Discrimination with a degree of separation

DISCRIMINATION WITH A DEGREE OF SEPARATION…. There was an interesting story near Boston this week, involving a young child facing discrimination because of his parents’ sexual orientation.

A Roman Catholic school in Massachusetts has withdrawn its acceptance of an 8-year-old boy with lesbian parents, saying their relationship was “in discord” with church teachings, according to one of the boys’ mothers.

It’s at least the second time in recent months that students have not been allowed to attend a U.S. Catholic school because of their parents’ sexual orientation, with the other instance occurring in Colorado.

The Massachusetts woman, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of concerns about the effect of publicity on her son, said she planned to send the boy to third grade at St. Paul Elementary School in Hingham in the fall. But she said she learned her son’s acceptance was rescinded during a conference call Monday with Principal Cynthia Duggan and the parish priest, the Rev. James Rafferty.

“I’m accustomed to discrimination, I suppose, at my age and my experience as a gay woman,” the mother said. “But I didn’t expect it against my child.”

According to the mother, the priest doesn’t have a problem with the 8-year-old boy, but the school doesn’t want him because the church disapproves of the child’s parents being lesbians, which is “in discord with the teachings of the Catholic Church.” That the lesbian couple is Christian, and wants their boy to get an education that emphasizes Christian values, didn’t matter. The parents were also willing to pay the tuition costs. The school, after already accepting the child, changed its mind anyway.

When the story started generating negative publicity for the Boston Archdiocese, it announced its intention to help the family find a different Catholic school for the young boy. We’ll see how that goes.

But after hearing this story the other day, I realized my first reaction was probably off-base. My instinct was to be outraged by the Catholic school’s callousness. Why would a church turn its back on a child? Why would a Christian school refuse entry to an 8 year old based on what his parents do in their bedroom?

Upon further reflection, though, it occurred to me that the elementary school can do as it pleases. It’s part of a private religious ministry that can hate whomever it wants to hate. It’s cruel, but the First Amendment protects churches and their schools that want to discriminate for all kinds of reasons.

But, and this is key, don’t even think about asking taxpayers to subsidize this. A private religious school wants to reject children based on their parents’ sexual orientation? Fine. It’s deeply offensive, but fine. But this becomes far more problematic when that same private religious school says, “And we want voucher money, too.”