Jocelyn Morffi and Natasha Hass had booked the Key Largo Lighthouse estate for three days starting Feb. 2, turning their wedding day into a wedding weekend.
Morffi’s messages were more somber a few days later. On Instagram, she explained to family, friends and anyone else who wondered why she hadn’t shown up at Miami’s Sts. Peter and Paul Catholic School, where she had been a first-grade teacher for seven years.
“This weekend I married the love of my life and unfortunately I was terminated from my job as a result,” she wrote. “In their eyes I’m not the right kind of Catholic for my choice in partner.”
Parents learned of the firing in a letter from the school’s principal on Thursday evening that did not give a reason for the decision, according to Miami-area news reports.
It said only that “a difficult and necessary decision” had been made regarding Morffi, but it didn’t provide details. “She is no longer teaching at our school,” the letter said.
It said students’ education wouldn’t be disrupted and asked parents “for your continued prayers” for the school.
Instead, about a dozen angry parents showed up at the school the next day, demanding an explanation and speaking to gathered news cameras.
“We were extremely livid. They treated her like a criminal; they didn’t even let her get her things out of her classroom,” Cintia Cini, whose child was in Morffi’s class, told the Miami Herald. Cini and other parents said they didn’t know or care about Morffi’s sexual orientation.
“Our only concern was the way she was with our children, the way she taught our children, and this woman by far was one of the best teachers out there,” Cini said.
For Morffi, who couldn’t be reached for comment, the firing was part of a one-two punch from a religious institution that has set itself against same-sex marriage and from a county that doesn’t forbid religious institutions from terminating employees who come out as gay or lesbian.
In April 2014, after a judge in Florida lifted the state’s ban on same-sex marriage, Archbishop Thomas Wenski, who oversees Miami’s Catholic archdiocese, sent a message to all employees, according to the Religion News Service.
It said that every person employed by the church — regardless of whether that person is a practicing Catholic — is expected to abide by Catholic teaching, including the church’s opposition to same-sex marriage.
The letter said employees who didn’t obey could be punished, even terminated, for such activities “even if it occurs outside the normal working day and outside the strict confines of work performed by the employee for the Archdiocese.”
It also included wording that many likened to a don’t-ask-don’t-tell policy governing social media use: “Employees should exercise discretion when posting on social media sites, and note that online activity indicative of prohibitive behaviors may subject an employee to disciplinary action or termination.”
State Rep. David Richardson, a Democrat from Miami Beach and the first openly gay member of the Florida House, told Politico that many “may be surprised to learn that you can be fired from your employment not just because of gay marriage but also because you’re gay.”
According to the state, the school accepts funds from state-run, tax-credit scholarships which, like private school vouchers, give money to children who might not otherwise be able to afford Catholic school. It is unclear whether any such scholarship students are enrolled at Sts. Peter and Paul Catholic School.
Of note is that this school participates in Florida voucher program known as the Gardiner Scholarship program. https://t.co/1UqAurSopC which means taxpayer dollars in FL are being directed to fund a school that does fire on the basis of sexual orientation. https://t.co/e7gFuyo7xM— Sasha Pudelski (@SPudelski) February 12, 2018
The program, one of several across the nation, has been hailed by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos as a way to provide more options to cash-strapped parents unsatisfied with their local public school. Critics say it’s just a way to divert taxpayer dollars from public services — and public schools — to private schools.
In her budget proposal, released Monday, DeVos is seeking $1.5 billion to expand private and public school choice, including funding state voucher programs. The proposal is likely to be rejected by Congress.
Even though the private schools are receiving a form of state support, they are not required to follow the same civil rights laws by which public schools are bound. They are free to expel students based on their sexual orientation, for example, and are not required to provide special education services.
Also, the state’s discrimination law doesn’t cover sexual orientation. A bill by Richardson, HB 347, would ban workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation, but it has repeatedly stalled in the Senate.
Miami-Dade County has an ordinance that prevents discrimination based on sexual orientation, but it makes an exception for religious institutions.
Meanwhile, the school is standing by its policy. Mary Ross Agosta, a spokeswoman for the archdiocese, said that although Morffi was well liked, she was fired for violating her contract.
“Any Catholic teacher who signs a contract with the Archdiocese of Miami is acknowledging that policies and procedures will be followed and will abide by the teachings and traditions of the Catholic Church,” the spokeswoman said in a statement emailed to The Washington Post.
Now, parents at Sts. Peter and Paul Catholic School say they are fighting for the reinstatement of a woman who not only taught their children to read and write, but also ran a volunteer organization called #teachHope70x7 that enlisted students to distribute meals to the homeless on weekends.
“We were completely outraged, all of the parents,” Samantha Mills, whose child was in Morffi’s class last year, told the Herald. “This teacher in particular has made such a contribution to the school. She never imposes her personal beliefs on others. She just does everything in love.”