US Catholic Faith in Real Life

Catholic church free to discriminate?

By Bryan Cones | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare

The Wisconsin Supreme Court has exempted the Catholic Church there from many of the laws governing discrimination, dismissing a lawsuit by a Catholic school teacher who said she was fired because of her age. According to the Chicago Tribune, Wendy Ostlund, who was laid off in 2002 after teaching at St. Patrick Elementary School since 1974, lost her suit under the Wisconsin Fair Employment Act. The court ruled the church's are free to hire for mission; in the past, the courts had exempted only "ministers"--usually ordained clergy.

I'm not sure if this is a win or a loss for the church. Dioceses have lobbied to keep themselves exempt from most workplace discrimination laws on religious grounds--especially laws that forbid discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. But the church's social justice teaching would seem to forbid discrimination based on gender, age, race, and the like. One might wish for a church that was ahead of the curve on workplace discrimination rather than behind it. This may be a legal win for the Diocese of La Crosse, but I'm not sure it's a PR win, or a win for the gospel.