Catholic schools have been hitting the headlines again. More precisely, the recent spate of firings involving morality clauses have been the headline-grabbers. Last Monday, Mother Jones published an article recounting the firing of a teacher at a Montana Catholic school and chronicling similar incidents from the last few years.
What is the controversy? Shaela Evenson was fired from her job for getting pregnant out of wedlock. The behavior, in the eyes of the Diocese of Helen, constitutes a violation of the school’s morality clause—a provision in contracts proscribing behaviors that do not accord with the values of an employer. Cohabitation, a homosexual lifestyle, and abortions are the garden-variety examples of turpitude for some Catholic employers requiring such clauses.
The various titles under the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibit discrimination on the grounds of race, religion, gender, disability, and sexual orientation. Title VII includes a definition that bars discrimination on the basis of pregnancy, but some Catholic agencies have been exempt.
As a libertarian, this is the kind of issue on which I am likely to draw the most ire. There is something unpalatable about a private employer refusing to hire someone on the basis of race or the local baker denying service to a same-sex couple on religious grounds. A Catholic school firing a teacher for, evidently, engaging in premarital sex seems equally distasteful and unpleasantly quaint. But as far as my penchant for logical consistency is concerned, the maximization of liberty must entail respecting the freedom of contract and freedom of association. In this case, Evenson signed a contract affirming her commitment to uphold the values of the school and she undermined it.
This stands regardless of how I feel about the moral policing permitted by these provisions—yes, it does make me wince a little.
Discrimination and terms of contract are separate issues. The so-called morality clause, in my opinion, largely falls under the purview of freedom of contract—though it certainly gets into the territory of discrimination.
I begin with the premise that the employer-employee is a contractual one. I agree to fulfill certain duties, projects, and requirements- everything between dress codes and punctuality- in exchange for X amount of pay. If I actively seek employment from a religiously-affiliated institution and the benefits are attractive enough, I may not find myself chafing that much under provisions stating I must conduct my personal life a certain way. After all, I can walk away from the contract and seek employment elsewhere.
I do not know anything about the circumstances that may have shaped Evenson’s decision to work for Butte Central. Presumably, she freely entered into contract, accepting the morality clause as a condition for her hiring and employment. If tardiness, egregious absences, or habitually showing up to work in sandals and jeans are grounds for termination, then it is consistent for me to say that transgressing against the morality clause is also a cause for dismissal.