Public dollars don't mix well with religious schools -

Public dollars don’t mix well with religious schools

Lesbian music teacher got short end of the stick when dismissed from Catholic school


Lisa Reimer was teaching music at a Catholic school in Vancouver until a group of parents found out she was gay. When complaints started rolling in, Reimer was told not to come back to Little Flower Academy, she alleges. Reimer was instructed to work from home and administer assignments online for the duration of her contract, which will expire in June.

In order to teach at the school, Reimer signed a contract agreeing to adhere to “Catholic values.” Since homosexuality generally doesn’t fall under the umbrella of Catholic values, Reimer deceitfully signed the clause, or so say those of the “She Got What She Deserved” position. Then there are the “The School is Full of Homophobes” loyalists, who argue the administration should not have caved to parental pressure, and should have granted Reimer parental rights when her partner had a baby in January.

Both positions, however, are undermined by the question of whether religious schools like Little Flower should be able to wield such authority in the first place. Private religious institutions, by distinction, can exclude whomever they like—the Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees it. But how is a publicly funded institution (according to CTV, the school received close to $2 million in public funding last year) sanctioned to pick only those citizens who adhere to its ideology when hiring?

My fellow blogger Todd Pettigrew took up this question when the Canadian Association of University Teachers began probing hiring practices at Canadian Mennonite University (CMU) and Trinity Western University (TWU). Like Little Flower Academy, TWU requires faculty to sign a statement of faith. Pettigrew writes, “Publicly funded institutions should be for the use of the public…Even if we concede that non-Christian students can enroll in places like CMU—where they are required to take ‘Introduction to Christianity’ in their first year—non-Christian faculty are not.”

The defense to this point always seems to be, “Catholics pay taxes, so Catholics should be entitled to a piece of the pie.” Fair. But when religious schools—elementary, secondary, or university—take a slice of the public pie and only let some people eat, well, that becomes a little less fair. Muslims, Jews, Buddhists—they all pay taxes too, but provinces generally don’t fund their religious schools.

Maybe we should start? Sure! Tell that to the political train wreck that was the John Tory platform during the 2007 Ontario general election. Tory, former leader of the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario, proposed to allocate $400 million to fund private religious schools in the province if elected. The plan was wickedly unpopular among voters.  Did it cost Tory the election? Maybe. But more importantly, it showed that many Canadians (Ontarians, at least) didn’t think public dollars should be spent on religious schools.

In this case, Lisa Reimer got the short end of the stick. But more than a victim of discrimination, she was a casualty of a confusing system that pits religious freedom against individual rights of citizens. If anything, it shows that public dollars and a private attitudes simply don’t mix.


Public dollars don’t mix well with religious schools

  1. What is the big deal? In Ontario, the Ontario College of Teachers allows sex offenders to teach and the teaching profession will suspended and fine any teacher who speaks against the policy. Apparently, being an honest teacher is a value that is not encourgaed in Canadian Schools. Heaven help our future generations of children. What are we saying to all of the young people?

  2. The “she got what she deserved” crowd don’t have much of a leg to stand on in this case. Little Flower Academy KNEW Reimer was a lesbian when they hired her–and they hired her anyway. Under the circumstances, she might have expected that they would stand by their own decision. It was only when parents complained that they got rid of her. Would any of the Christians here care to enlighten us on how hypocrisy fits into the Christian value system?

    As to public funding of religious schools, why stop at religious schools? Why should the public fund any private schools? We don’t advocate two-tiered health-care for the rich. Why should we have two-tiered education? When children from wealthy privileged families are permitted to only associate with one another, they grow into powerful individuals with no concern for the struggles of ordinary people. Some of them are running some of our governments right now.

  3. Come on, Maclean’s. Lets do our research before we hastily call out some Catholics for gay-bashing.

    There’s a lot more to this story than letting Reimer go because parents complained she was gay. There’s no mention in this article that Reimer was only at the school because she was covering a maternity leave. She’d be gone at the end of June anyways. We’re not talking about someone who had been there for years and was all of a sudden out of a job for being gay. This is a classic case of contract violation.

    Little Flower Academy parents didn’t complain because a gay woman was teaching their children. In fact, most of them had nice things to say about Reimer’s work. Reimer was let go because she violated the terms of her contract. And in the case of the Vancouver Catholic school system, abiding by your contract means abiding by the rules of the Church. The school system doesn’t discriminate against anyone of differing religion, political persuasions, race or sexual orientation, they simply ask that you not contradict the Church’s teachings in their school. Teachers are responsible for the educational upbringing of young people, and whether you agree with it or not, in the Catholic system that education has a spiritual element to it. The school system wants to employ people who will be promoting principles in line with Catholic teaching at the school, and they have a right to ask this of their employees.

    I attended a Catholic high school in B.C. not so long ago, and these same rules applied to my grade 9,10 and 11 French teacher who was Protestant and my grade 9 English teacher who was gay. And these same rules apply to Catholics who are employed by the school as well. The administration would be just as intolerant of a Catholic teacher at the school who was living with her boyfriend. All of these stipulations are laid out in the contract when new teachers are hired, and yes the school knew Reimer was gay (and still hired her, by the way, which is a big step in the right direction), but Reimer also would have been aware of these rules when she agreed to fill the temporary contract. She wasn’t let go because she was gay, she was let go because when she approached the school about parental benefits after her partner had a baby, the school became aware that she was living outside of the requirements of her contract.

    No one in any workplace can agree to terms in a contract (even if you disagree with them) and then claim they’ve been discriminated against when let go because they violated the terms of said contract.

    Whether or not the world agrees with the terms of Reimer’s contract is not the point. Reimer agreed to them when she took the job.

  4. Danielle…well said. But all the things you have said explain why we should get rid of Catholic Schools. They reflect less then 30% of our population and have done little to protect children from abuse.

  5. Interesting comment. “No one in any work place can agree to terms in a contract (even if you disagree with them) and then claim they’ve been discriminated against when let go because they violated the terms of said contract.”
    There is a unwritten contract that says that children should be protected and defended from harm. What has the Catholic Church done about that lately? Pass more directives from the Pope? Children are abused both by tecahers and by other children. What have Catholic Teachers done about that? Gee it isn’t in our contract?
    My child should never face abuse in our schools.
    In Ontario, the Bishops have stood up to question the Ontario Governments new sex education courses… My they are really big men standing up for children. Nobody noticed all the preist some how disppearing across the country from their churches…. In any other place of business that is called a cover up.

  6. Danielle, those are not the facts. Reimer was NOT let go when she approached the school about maternal leave. She did that back in January, and apparently, the school officials were happy for her. If they weren’t, why was she still gainfully employed until now?

    The fact is, she WAS let go because parents (at least some of them) complained. The only explanation offered by the school in media interviews–and this is the school’s own side of the story here not Reimer’s–is a lame excuse that, by posting a birth announcement on her private Facebook page, Reimer violated and agreement that she not talk to students about her sexuality. It all sounds just like the US Military’s Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy. Theoretically, you can serve as long as you don’t openly declare your orientation. In practice, you get turfed out the moment someone who has a problem with it finds out.

    The school has the legal right to do whatever it wants in the name of Catholicism apparently. However, let’s not kid ourselves that there’s anything Christian about the behavior on display here.

    Either the Catholic church refuses to associate with homosexuals or it doesn’t. You can’t have your cake and eat it too. If homosexuality is a sin, why did they hire her to begin with?

    To quote the Church Lady, apparently some of us only follow the bible when it’s conveeeenient.

    (not that I’m personally advocating Catholicism or anything)

  7. So let’s take a closer look at this. She signed a contract agreeing to “adhere to Catholic values”.

    Please, since this is a contract we are discussing, educate me as to how to legally define Catholic values.

    If one defines them by the organizations’ primary text which happens to be a published statement of values known as the Holy Bible, almost any value needed can be selected from the examples given therein. But let’s say we just stick to the New Testament, shall we? I see much about love, forgiveness, importance of Faith. Not much about persecuting sinners and taking away their livelihood for failing to be perfect.

    So perhaps, despite the Church’s proclamation of the Holy Spirit’s guidance in compiling, translating and finalizing the Bible, it is being misinterpreted by modern followers. Let’s look at the behavior of the Church itself instead and it’s public statements regarding the behavior and policies of the organization. If those fail, then the basic tenet of the Church, that it is guided by the Holy Trinity must be false.

    The Inquisition. Historical capital punishment of heretics. The Crusades against Muslims, Pagans and miscellaneous Heretics in the name of expansion and purification. The Orthodox split & all that followed (remember, both believe *they* are the true Church). The Protestant Reformation (again, from their perspective they are the carriers of the legacy of Jesus Christ). The Counter Reformation (Hello, Mystics and Jesuits!). The simony, absenteeism, nepotism and other corruption that prompted the Council of Trent. Indulgences. The imperialistic Missions to China. Galileo’s Trial. Alignment with Mussolini in exchange for the gift of the Vatican. Historical anti-Semitism. Influence on the African AIDS epidemic. Oh, and that little matter of molesting children over the last half century or so, covering it up at the highest levels and allowing it to continue.

    Which Cahtolic value, as exemplified by the actions of the Church, should Ms. Reimer follow, please?

    But no; they wish to persecute her and deprive her of making a living for the crime against God of falling in love with the wrong person. Think about that for a minute. The Church being against Love. That’s a “Catholic Value” I can do without.

  8. “Reimer was let go because she violated the terms of her contract. And in the case of the Vancouver Catholic school system, abiding by your contract means abiding by the rules of the Church.”

    So, what did supposed rules did she transgress? Your post is oddly non-specific about that.

  9. Public government money (ie: taxpayers money) should NOT fund religious schools of any kind. It is discriminatory. Even the United Nations has condemned Ontario discriminatory practices by continuing to publically fund Catholic schools. Which, by the way, the government continues to justify by using the 1867 British North America Act! The last time I looked at a calendar, it said 2010. Is it not time to move from the 19th century into the 21st century?

  10. The problem with our system is that the human rights of teachers are not upheld when it comes to funding private schools with public money. Schools that receive money are required to follow a provincial curriclum – but who delivers the curriculum can be treated willy nilly. That’s simply not fair.

  11. Nice round of Catholic and Christian bashing folks. Check your multiculturometer though – 90% of the world and all religions disapprove, to put it mildly, of homosexuality.

    Canada and Canadians are a moral freakshow, a place in which “prosperity is ripening trhe principle of decay”, (and if you considered education more of a priority than self-congratulatory preening over how much you love “tolerance”, you’d know where that last expression originates.

  12. Nice round of Catholic and Christian bashing, folks. Check your multiculturometer though – 90% of the world and all religions disapprove, to put it mildly, of homosexuality.

    Canada and Canadians are a moral freakshow, a place in which “prosperity is ripening the principle of decay”, (and if you considered education more of a priority than self-congratulatory preening over how much you love “tolerance”, you’d know where that last expression originates).

  13. Even if it were true that 90% of the world thinks homosexuality is bad, why should Canada follow suit? Didn’t peer pressure go out in high school?

    The vast majority of the world also once thought that slavery was ok, that selling women into marriage was proper, that the universe revolved around the earth and that anyone who believed otherwise was a heretic.

    Thank god some people had the presence of mind to buck the trend.

    Would you actually care to offer a REASON why there’s something wrong with homosexuality? Or are we all just supposed to take leave of our common sense and copy what they do in Iran?

    And by the way, nobody is bashing Christians here, just homophobes. The majority of Christians, at least in my experience, are NOT homophobic.

  14. Most straight marriages one or both are in denial of there sexual identity. we should have a openly gay affirm reformed chrsitain schooling that accept gay marriage. Most so called straight marriage one spouse is not even straight and yet they conform to worldy human tradition not heavenly where gender/sexsism and who you love is not an issue. Most new testsamnet was written in greek and translated using the male gender, when really the true translation was a third gender and homosexaulity was never mentioned in the new testament! I would encourage a gay affirm policy within hospitals, schools, and churchs of both eastern rite byazntine also that encourages marriage. My other agruemnet is the bible mentions slavery are we to judge and allow group to be discriminated and no human rights! Christ is for liberal christians, mysticism like of the Eastern rite denominations!

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