Alliance Defending Freedom senior counsel Gregory S. Baylor said it is dangerous to have the government determine the hiring practices of religious schools.
"You are on a slippery slope if you allow the government to determine which jobs it deems 'religious'," Baylor told CNA. "The government should not be allowed to interfere with a religious school's hiring practices and what it believes is important to remain true to its mission and identity."
"Religious schools should be able to have representatives that behave in a manner that is consistent with their beliefs so that there is no misunderstanding where the school stands on controversial issues," he said.
The court also ruled that Fontbonne Academy did not qualify for a religious exemption to the state's anti-discrimination laws because it does not restrict membership and enrollment to only one religion.
"Welcoming students of all faiths, its student body has included non-Catholics, including Muslims, Jews, Baptists, Buddhists, Hindus, and Episcopalians. It follows that Fontbonne, as employer has no statutory exemption from the provisions that prohibit employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation," the judgement states.
Beckwith argued that the judge misinterpreted the statute for religious exemptions.
"The judge created a very narrow interpretation for religious exemptions that is outside of the intent of the legislature," Beckwith said. "According to the ruling, if Fontbonne Academy allows non-Catholic students, then that means they lose their religious freedom protections. This is wrong."
"Religious freedom allows schools to set limits on what the behavioral standards are for its academic programs and faculty. But what this ruling says is that they don't get to do that unless they only have Catholic membership and enrollment," he said.
"This logic goes against the academic spirit of debate and diversity. Fontbonne allows for non-Catholic participation in its school precisely because of its desire for authentic debate and diversity," Beckwith said.
Fontbonne Academy currently has more than 320 students enrolled who come from over 40 communities around the greater Boston. There are more than 30 international students at the school.
The school only requires its administrative and theology faculty to be Catholic.
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Martin Scanlan, associate professor at Boston College, said that religious institutions have a right to preserve their identity, especially since they do not impose their beliefs on others of different faiths.
"Catholics schools strike a positive balance between their Catholic identity and respecting the fact that not everyone enrolled or participating is Catholic," he told CNA. "In fact, religious institutions live their faith more fully when they are allowed to serve a population that includes people with different religious views."
Baylor said that religious schools can be proactive in preserving their identity by clearly establishing their beliefs and hiring practices to avoid legal disputes.
"One of the most important things that religious schools can do is to clearly state in writing what their beliefs, policies and practices are and then consistently apply those policies. They also need to clearly explain in advance where they draw the line – if any – on their hiring practices and who can and cannot be allowed to perform a specific job," Baylor said.
"In this way, many disputes can be avoided. If they are not, these schools should know they have legal recourse," he said.
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