'You're fired!' Religious schools demand the right to dismiss teachers for 'moral offenses--even when they're funded by taxpayers.

Author:Jones, Sarah E.
 
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By all accounts, Ken Bencomo was an excellent teacher.

Bencomo had been on staff at St. Lucy's Priory High School in Glendora, Calif., for 17 years, teaching drama and English as well as overseeing production of the yearbook, when students noticed his surprise absence from the 2014-2015 class schedule. School administrators eventually confirmed that the teacher had been fired.

The dismissal, they said, had nothing to do with the quality of Bencomo's instruction, but rather his wedding--to a man, in a ceremony publicized by a local newspaper. Although his sexual orientation had been no secret at St. Lucy's, a Catholic school, administrators informed Bencomo that his wedding contradicted Catholic doctrine.

Current and former students launched a widely publicized campaign to reinstate the teacher. Brittany Littleton, a former student, told The Huffington Post website, "It was known by 99 percent of the school that he was gay, but it was never an issue in the past. I think it's very hypocritical to be OK with someone and their relationship until they are open about it."

But despite rallies, media coverage, and a Change.org petition that collected nearly 93,000 signatures and the attention of celebrities like Perez Hilton and Sophia Bush, the school stuck by its decision.

The Bencomo controversy is only one of several involving the firing of Catholic school teachers for violating contracts that codify compliance with church doctrine. These incidents, ob servers say, are a stark reminder that private sectarian schools play by a different set of rules than public institutions.

As voucher plans, tax credit schemes and other forms of taxpayer aid to religious schools spread in the states, a dichotomy is emerging: Taxpayers are expected to support two separate and very unequal school systems. One is public, where teachers may unionize and receive job security through an array of federal and state laws that bar employment discrimination. The second system is private and may fire teachers and staff for any number of "moral" offenses.

Increasingly, teachers in religious schools are finding themselves with very little, if any, employment protection. And in some states, taxpayers are buttressing those schools.

Sectarian schools in California don't receive vouchers. But many religious schools in Ohio do, and that state has also been the site of high-profile Catholic school firings.

Carla Hale, a veteran physical education instructor, lost her job at Bishop Watterson High School in Columbus in 2013 after an obituary for her mother mentioned...

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