Legislation introduced in Pennsylvania to prevent discrimination could end up prohibiting Catholic schools from requiring teachers to abide by Catholic teaching, religious freedom advocates in the state are warning.

"The Church has been precise, in its moral teachings, in distinguishing between sexual orientation and sexual behavior. It has condemned all forms of hostility to any individual on the basis of her or his actual or perceived sexual orientation," Amy B. Hill, communications director of the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference, told CNA on Dec. 11.

"However, the Church also teaches that sexual activity between persons of the same gender cannot be reconciled with its beliefs and doctrines. It similarly does not condone heterosexual relations outside of marriage."

A proposed Pennsylvania bill to ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation fails to make this distinction, she said.

Supporters of the bill are using controversy over the firing of Michael Griffin, a French and Spanish teacher at Holy Ghost Preparatory School, to advocate for the bill's passage.

On Dec. 6, the school fired Griffin after he announced his intention to contract a same-sex civil "marriage" with his partner.

The all-boys Catholic school in the Philadelphia suburb of Bensalem, Pa., is independent of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. It is governed by a board composed of lay members and members of the Congregation of the Holy Spirit.

The school's president, Fr. James McCloskey, said in a Dec. 7 statement that the teacher's decision was incompatible with the school's Catholic mission.

"Unfortunately, this decision contradicts the terms of his teaching contract at our school, which requires all faculty and staff to follow the teachings of the Church as a condition of their employment," he explained.

Fr. McCloskey said that Griffin had acknowledged that his contract requires adherence to Church teaching but still said "that he intended to go ahead with the ceremony."

"Regretfully, we informed Mr. Griffin that we have no choice but to terminate his contract effective immediately," he stated.

Griffin told the New York Daily News he had been teaching at the school for 12 years and had been with his partner the same number of years. The 35-year-old teacher is an alumnus of the school. He said administrators and fellow faculty knew he was gay and the school invited his partner to school events.

He and his partner contracted a civil union in 2008. He said he did not discuss his sexuality with students, but he said a few "could probably put two and two together."

Catholic teaching does not condemn any sexual orientation. It holds that all human persons should be treated with dignity and respect. However, it also understands the choice to engage in homosexual activity to be sinful and believes that marriage can only be the union of a man and a woman.

Griffin resides in New Jersey, where a court decision earlier this year mandated the redefinition of civil marriage to recognize same-sex couples.  

Pennsylvania State Sen. Daylin Leach claimed that a bill he supports to bar discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity would have prevented the Catholic school from firing Griffin on moral grounds, the Philadelphia-area news site Newsworks reports.

Hill responded by saying that on its face, the bill would indeed prevent Catholic schools from requiring teachers to follow Catholic doctrine.

She said the law would be "an inappropriate use of governmental power to coerce religious institutions into abandoning their faith."

"It would force the school to go to court to try to have the law declared unconstitutional," she said. As proposed, the bill does not have an exemption protecting the constitutional liberties of religious employers "to teach and practice principles of their own religious faith."

The Pennsylvania Catholic Conference said in an action alert that the legislation is "intolerant and prejudiced against people of faith."

The legislation will "jeopardize many churches and their charitable outreach," the alert said, warning that similar laws have closed Catholic adoption agencies and "trampled religious liberty."