A hearing officer for the Minnesota Department of Human Rights has ruled that a lay Catholic teacher who remarried after being divorced was properly fired by a Roman Catholic high school here.
George Beck, the hearing officer, ruled that the constitutional rights of the parents of students at Benilde-St. Margaret's High School had freedom of religion rights under the First Amendment that outweighed the state's interest in forbidding employment discrimination.
The case involved Patrick Steeber, 31, who taught Spanish at the school. He was fired after being informed that his remarriage would violate the school's philosophy, which emphasized the example provided by a "value oriented" staff committed to the Catholic ethic.
The hearing officer noted that the school principal had not alleged that Steeber was unable to perform his teaching duties satisfactorily after his marriage. He added that it had not been held under the state antidiscrimination law that being a Catholic in good standing was an "bona fide occupational qualification" that provides an exemption from the law.
But Beck said it would violate the religious freedom of the parents, as represented by the high school trustees, to "force them to retain a Catholic teacher who has openly violated a teaching of the Church." Although the teacher's duties were secular, a teacher at the school is expected to be a model for the students, Beck said.
Beck said the parents took on a financial sacrifice to send their children to a Catholic school for something beyond merely academic education. He cited a 1972 U.S. Supreme Court decision that ruled Amish parents had a constitutional right to keep their children out of public schools because they believed those schools violated Amish religious beliefs.
Beck said "It would be difficult to overemphasize the interests represented on both sides of this case. The state has a very serious interest in preventing discrimination against its citizens in employment. But parents have a constitutionally guaranteed right to supervise their children's education."