A Catholic Mullah, Now?
Cathleen Kaveny February 14, 2014 - 10:11am
Robbie George is defending the right, nay, even proclaiming the duty, of a hypothetical Muslim school to fire a hypothetical Muslim teacher who is caught drinking, carousing, and publicly flouting Muslim norms, both on campus and off. God bless Robbie. The Muslim community in the United States must be so grateful for his attention and advice.
But here’s the thing. I don’t think Robbie's vivid hypothetical helps us resolve the specific questions actually facing the Catholic community here and now. In fact, I think it’s a distraction. I'm not denying that a religious school, Muslim or Catholic, has a legal right under American law to write a contract that includes a general morals clause, or even a highly specific clause. But a legal right isn’t a legal obligation. Furthermore, the inclusion of the clause in the contract doesn't end the necessity for wise decision-making. Under basic principles of contract law, that clause has to be interpreted and applied to particular cases in order to decide if there was a breach of the clause. Moreover, even if there is a breach, the non-breaching party has the power to waive it in a particular instance. The question that any religious school faces is whether under particular facts and circumstances, it is wise for a school administrator to terminate the employment of a teacher or mid-level administrator.
I do not believe myself competent to speak about how Muslim schools should go about trying to enforce Muslim moral and religious norms in the course of trying to educate the next generation of Muslims living in America. I’m a Catholic Christian moralist, not a Muslim moralist. I’m asked to give my financial and moral support to Catholics schools, not to Muslim schools.
As I argued earlier, within the Catholic framework, the decision whether or not to fire a particular teacher is itself a decision subject to moral analysis. It conveys a normative message to the students. It shapes the community and it expresses the communty's values. Its moral message is multifaceted; it is not reducible to a simple Facebook "like" or "not like" of the teacher's underlying offence, understood as a an abstract moral proposition.
So here’s my proposal for Robbie:
1. Let’s let the Muslim community take care of their own internal decision-making on these matters. Let's focus on the community to which we actually claim to belong--the Catholic community.
2. Let’s agree that there’s a legal right for religious schools, including Catholic schools, to include morals clauses in their teachers’ contracts.
3. Let’s agree that there are some instances where it is appropriate for a Catholic school to fire a teacher for morally inappropriate behavior.I gave the example of the two married teachers caught canoodling in the broom closet. But the specifics matter. We can't decide every case according to the most extreme examples of misbehavior. We need to consider each case on its own terms. (And more broadly, in my view, "misbehavior" cannot be interpreted only or primarily as sexual misbehavior.)
4. Let’s talk about the Montana case–a non-hypothetical case facing our community. Did the school act in accordance with the cardinal virtue of prudence, steadied by justice, and informed and elevated by Christian charity, in firing the pregnant, unmarried school teacher? Did it act in a pro-life manner? Did it teach Gospel values? Robbie, what sayeth thou about this particular case?
About the Author
Cathleen Kaveny is the Darald and Juliet Libby Professor in the Theology Department and Law School at Boston College.