Rod Dreher

Rod Dreher


Atheists who teach in parochial school

posted by Rod Dreher

Get Religion highlights a couple of stories about Catholic schools firing teachers who declared their atheism – as well as parochial school teachers who pretend to be believers to get jobs in this terrible economy. Excerpt from the GetRel clip:

As the story notes, there were 12,000-plus new teachers in the province in 2009 and only 5,000 open jobs. That means there are plenty of teachers out there who are highly motivated to take the plunge into religious schools.
Meanwhile, the Toronto Catholic District School Board requires that all teachers, and other employees who work directly with children, be Catholics. Yes, some in modern Canada now argue that this doctrinal policy is discriminatory.
Ah, but is it acceptable for teachers to tell lies in order to land these jobs? Is it acceptable for these adults to read up on the faith a bit, take the right vows to join the church and then take part in the Catholic sacraments, with their fingers — metaphorically speaking — crossed behind their backs?

No way! Deception is unacceptable. But that does raise an interesting question: if a parochial school teacher is an unbeliever, but in no respect questions in the classroom the teachings of the school’s faith, is that acceptable? I still think not, but it’s worth thinking about.
Matthew, our oldest, has attended two schools in his time, both excellent Protestant schools. We were up front with the administration that we were not Protestants, but that we would not object to what was taught theologically in the classroom at those schools. At that level — elementary school — we figured that the theology and Scripture lessons the little ones would receive would be basic Christianity, as indeed they were. Julie and I genuinely respected the right of these schools to teach their particular version of the Christian faith to their students, and we were grateful that they respected our family’s form of Christianity enough to allow our child into their school. There was no deception involved, and a clear understanding that we had no standing to demand special treatment for our non-Protestant child.
But the GetRel post makes me wonder what I would do if I were running such a school, and someone of a different faith applied to be a teacher there. It’s one thing to grant an exception to a student re: signing off on the faith’s confession. It’s another to grant that exception to a teacher. My gut tells me that I would probably go on a case by case basis, but that I would struggle with a teacher who said she didn’t have any problem keeping her (say) Catholicism to herself in the Protestant classroom. Could she really? Is it fair to ask that of her? Is it possible that anyone who was serious about their faith could do that? After all, Julie and I figured that the time would come when Matthew was older, when we’d have to take him out of the Protestant school, because the distance between the teaching he was getting at school and what our family believes would be too great, and I wouldn’t want to make him live with such cognitive dissonance.
Could a teacher live that way, in good conscience? I don’t know. You tell me. At what point does a parochial school administrator have to insist on religious particularity — that her teaching staff profess the religion around which the school is organized — on her faculty? An atheist or agnostic teacher seems clearly out of bounds, but could a Catholic school in good conscience hire an Orthodox teacher? A Baptist one? And what about the difference between teaching lower grades and higher ones? Like I said, you tell me.



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John E. - Agn Stoic

posted May 31, 2010 at 9:40 am


At what point does a parochial school administrator have to insist on religious particularity — that her teaching staff profess the religion around which the school is organized — on her faculty?
When that teacher’s personal beliefs become relevant to the subject being taught.
When does that happen? Well…maybe during the religious education classes, but one could make the argument that a competent teacher could instruct the students in a doctrine that the teacher does not personally believe.
For a math teacher, I would argue that as long as the teacher stuck to classroom instruction and didn’t get into his own ideas on theology, then the teacher’s beliefs are irrelevant.
Please note that I am referencing the question as stated by Rod in terms of “have to” and am arguing that there is no particular case in which the subjects “have to” be taught by those who do not share the school’s faith.
If the school administrator wanted to have a staff of those who professed the faith associated with the school, I would think that a very reasonable preference and would have no argument against it.
But “have to” is not the same as “want to”.



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John E. - Agn Stoic

posted May 31, 2010 at 9:42 am


for
Please note that I am referencing the question as stated by Rod in terms of “have to” and am arguing that there is no particular case in which the subjects “have to” be taught by those who do not share the school’s faith.
please substitute
Please note that I am referencing the question as stated by Rod in terms of “have to” and am arguing that there is no particular case in which the subjects “have to” only be taught by those who share the school’s faith.



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Chris Jones

posted May 31, 2010 at 9:44 am


I think it depends on (1) the ages of the children being taught, and (2) the subject matter being taught.
Children in the lower grades tend to be in a single class the whole school day, with all subjects being taught by the same teacher. In a parochial school such children would naturally turn to their classroom teacher for questions on Christian teaching just as for any other subject. The teacher would not only have to keep his or her own faith (or lack of it) to him or herself, but to fairly and accurately teach a faith which he or she does not share. There may be teachers who can be relied upon to do that, but in general I should think it would be difficult and uncomfortable.
At the other end of the age spectrum, in high school, classes are generally separated by subject matter and taught by specialists. One would not expect students to bring their theological questions to their geometry teacher. A religious school should certainly have the right to hire people of its own faith to teach its religion classes.
However, I know of one case where an Orthodox priest (whose mission parish is too small to support him and his family) earns his living teaching theology (and some other subjects, German IIRC) at a Roman Catholic high school. As far as I know this arrangement is working well for both parties; presumably the school trusts the priest both to know and to fairly present RC teaching even where it differs from his own. (Perhaps they feel that an Orthodox priest would be more orthodox, even in RC terms, than many liberal Roman Catholic teachers might be; if so I think they are right.)



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John E. - Agn Stoic

posted May 31, 2010 at 9:46 am


Could a teacher live that way, in good conscience? I don’t know. You tell me.
In what way could a Protestant be possibly violating his conscience by teaching math in a Catholic school?
Don’t mean to sound snarky, but I don’t understand the premise of the question.



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Richard

posted May 31, 2010 at 9:54 am


It’s a very good question. In my school, there are articles of faith and conduct that we expect teachers to believe, uphold, and live out. They are, to be brief, what C.S. Lewis would describe as orthodox Christian belief or “Mere Christianity”. What we teach outside of academics is more related to worldview and how we think about and know things rather than theological particularity. It forms the basis on which we teach.
We have students of various denominational backgrounds – a couple have NEVER been to a liturgical church! – including Catholic.
As long as clear guidelines and expectations are set, I don’t think it’s that big a deal. Those guidelines then form the basis for employment.
In all sincerity, I’ve had Catholic parents tell me their kids get a better education at my school than at the parish school because we reinforce fundamentals of the faith. Those directly inform how a child will lead his life. Not politics, but the Resurrection; less pastoral letters and more Scripture. Our school caters to kids with learning disabilities or those who just don’t do well in a traditional classroom setting – it’s even more important to reinforce fundamentals to them.
Speaking for myself, I think these matters need to be handled on a case-by-case basis. We are John 14:6 Christians – I like to think we are open-minded on other issues.



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Rod Dreher

posted May 31, 2010 at 10:08 am


Richard, at both the Protestant schools to which we sent Matthew, there were Catholic kids attending, whose parents, if I recall correctly, were at least somewhat motivated to send their kids there because they believed the kids would get a stronger religious formation at a serious Protestant school than at area Catholic schools available to them. I’d feel the same way in their shoes. As an Orthodox Christian, I’d far prefer my kids to be educated in a serious Protestant school than in an Orthodox school that didn’t take the faith seriously.



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GrantL

posted May 31, 2010 at 10:21 am


Well the problem in Toronto is that the Catholic board here is funded by public dollars. So tax payers are funding public service that excludes qualified professionals on the basis of their religion. So of course its discriminatory and its a violation of the separation of church and state. In the last provincial election the former conservative party leader attempted to extend public funding to all religious schools, and his part (which was on course to win) got crushed because of it. Ontario voters do not, per se, have a problem with religion, but with the kind of discriminatory use of public funds that would be unacceptable in any other setting.
(the catholic system gets funding because of a 19th century political compromise.)
As for can a teacher live in good conscious by lying to get a job? That is a good question Rod and I knowing several teachers in this boat I would say they don’t have a clear conscience entirely. They have to live a lie every day, and that weighs on a person over time. That said, it is worth noting that you’d be surprised what people can live with in order to get a job to provide for their families.



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scotch meg

posted May 31, 2010 at 10:41 am


I have never been on the teacher side of the equation personally.
For nine years, I sent my children to two Catholic parish K-8 schools. Both were fairly good at providing an education in the Catholic faith. It mattered a great deal that the teachers were Catholic, because the students in the primary grades were with one teacher all day, and the students in the upper grades were as likely to ask questions of a popular science teacher (say) as their religion teacher. For my older daughter, the best teacher with regard to religion was the art teacher; the religion teacher in eighth grade finished the job of turning her into an atheist/agnostic to this day, not by teaching inaccurately, but by her rigid attitude, which could not accommodate questions or respond to doubts with information and resources.
For two years, I sent my younger daughter to a very sound Catholic high school (the school was 6-12, but I only dealt with the high school side) with high academic standards. Among the students, there was great diversity, including girls who were Orthodox, Anglican, and even Sikh, along with non-religious Korean international students. The school schedule included daily Mass; there was an opt-out, quiet, non-school-related reading, except for “all-school Masses” which all were required to attend. The teachers did not have to be Catholic, but they did have to be Christians and be willing to attend Mass, which meant that the only non-Catholic teachers I knew of were Orthodox. Looking back on this experience, I would say that the school would have done best to stick to Catholic teachers, because the Orthodox teachers were a bit of a lure away from the school’s focus on creating a Catholic atmosphere. Certainly it would have been a disaster to have a teacher who was a nonbeliever.
In my experience, high school kids track the teachers they admire. It’s a way of stepping away from their families. If they’re surrounded by positive role models of their own faith, then it’s easier for the stepping away to focus on a different aspect of life rather than on faith, or for them to step away by seeing themselves as “more faithful” than their parents. Also, the reality is that students will ask teachers they like and trust all kinds of questions, whether appropriate or related to the subject matter the teacher teaches or not. So putting an atheist into a religious school setting is bound to cause tension at some point.



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hlvanburen

posted May 31, 2010 at 10:45 am


An interesting proposition. Under our First Amendment we give broad freedom to religious groups to exercise their faith as they see fit. We have included within that the right to educate children in accordance with their parents’ beliefs. Thus we have parochial schools. Traditionally this has meant that as long as the students there are held to the same requirements as public school students with regards to state testing and adequate progress, the schools are free to establish their religious curriculum in accordance with the beliefs of their governing body.
The deceit practiced by these teachers who make false claims about their faith in order to get a job run counter to this. In my mind the school would have every right to dismiss or not hire such a person if they discovered they were lying about something as important to the mission of the school as religious belief.
Parents who send their children to parochial schools enter into a contract with that school. The parents know, based on the public representation of the school, that religion is part of the teaching there, and by agreeing to send their child there accept that. In most cases they want such an environment. Teachers who lie about their faith put the school at risk for misrepresentation to the public, something I would think the school would want to avoid at almost any cost.
Public schools are very different from parochials, and thus the assumptions and understandings around them are different. If we require parochial schools to hire teachers who hold to religious tenets that are different to or run counter to those of the school, we violating the rights of the school and the parents who have, in good faith, sent their children to this school precisely because of those tenets.



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Chris Jones

posted May 31, 2010 at 10:56 am


GrantL,
You are right that there is a breach of the separation of church and state. But the breach is not in the refusal to hire non-Catholics in Catholic schools; the breach is in the public funding of religious schools in the first place. If the state has decided to fund Catholic schools, it has decided that it is OK for schools receiving its funding to be distinctively Catholic in some sense. Hiring Catholic teachers for a Catholic school is simply part of what makes such schools distinctively Catholic.
If there is an unacceptable violation of church-state separation here, the remedy is not to demand that Catholic schools stop being Catholic (which is what it means if they are prohibited from limiting their hiring to Catholics). The remedy is to stop funding religious schools.



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Erin Manning

posted May 31, 2010 at 10:57 am


I have to tell you, as someone who went to parochial schools from first grade until my parents started homeschooling us when I was in my sophomore year of high school, that I was far more scandalized by so-called “Catholic” school teachers who were openly and defiantly living in opposition to basic Church teaching than I could possibly have been by, say, a sincere Protestant teacher who was respectful of the faith.
How did I know my teachers were opposed to basic Church teaching? They told me, especially when they commented negatively on my family’s size (I am one of nine children in my family). They ridiculed the idea that anyone wouldn’t just use the Pill to quit having kids and made fun of the whole idea of the Church’s opposition to contraception. My so-called “health” teacher in high school gave our class a series of lectures that could have come from Planned Parenthood about all the birth control we “should” be using; when asked to present the Catholic viewpoint (yes, by me, and one other student) she sneered that it wasn’t her job to teach religion, and proceeded to draw a “rhythm” method demonstration on the blackboard with the sole purpose of convincing Catholic high school girls that they wouldn’t be able to have sex with their boyfriends often enough if they stuck to such antiquated ideas. I don’t know, even now, what was more appalling–her utter, embarrassing ignorance about the natural means of birth regulation the Church approves, or her obvious disdain for Church teaching not only as regards the moral evil of contraception, but also the moral evil of fornication. And she, of course, was a Catholic. (This was one of the many straws that made my parents realize that they were essentially throwing our tuition money into a sewer that bore no resemblance whatsoever to actual Catholic education.)
At least with Facebook, parents have some way to discover just how heterodox their children’s teachers are, before they go dumping thousands of tuition dollars into the cesspool of diocesan education.



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Jon

posted May 31, 2010 at 11:23 am


I have a friend (vaguely Christian, but not a church member) who teaches math in a Jewish school. The subject is obviously as far away from religion as one can get, and she was required as a condition of employment to affirm that she would in no way alllow her personal religious beliefs to enter the classroom, and this included a ban on the wearing of Christian religious jewelry, among other things. That seems about right to me. For a religion class though I would suggest that a church member who can affirm that s/he accepts all bvasic church teaching is required.



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GrantL

posted May 31, 2010 at 11:44 am


Chris Jones: agreed. The public education system is to be just that – public. If you want to use public funds, then you can no longer discriminate based on religious faith, just as you cannot discriminate against someone because of their skin colour. I frankly could care less about the “need” to have religiously faithful teachers if the school board is funded by tax dollars. That the catholic system is still publicly funded in Canada is disgraceful.
What was interesting during the last Ontario election was the number of religious schools that did not want public funding. They felt they had a religious mandate in educating the children who were sent to their schools and did not want anything to do with the public curriculum. So they were saying thanks but no thanks if it meant having to change their school even a little bit.
So if a religious school wants to only hire people of their faith, they are welcome to, but they should not be able to do it on the the public purse. It’s fundamentally a violation of church/state separation, particularly in Canada where the Catholics get funding, but no one else does. There is nothing particular about a Catholic school board that gives it special warrant that other sectarian schools don’t.
So when you have this situation and teachers are looking for work in an increasingly narrow job market, yah some of them are going to lie to get a job by claiming to be a Catholic. I cannot really blame them, seeing as their taxes pay for the Catholic board in the first place. Frankly, the entire system needs to be changed and then you wouldn’t have worry about teachers pretending to a religious they are not part of.



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Anonymous

posted May 31, 2010 at 12:07 pm


If I were a parent I would have no problem sending my child to a Protestant school that taught the truth about Christianity even though I am an Orthodox Christian. As an Orthodox Christian, I feel somewhat similar to Flannery O’Connor, who noted that many times she felt more of a pull toward her Protestant brethren than her Catholic brethren. My closest friends are Pentecostal Christians and though we disagree on several theological issues, they are much truer, more committed Christians than many, many people at my Orthodox Church who attend church on Sunday–and are able to cross themselves properly and say the Nicene Creed–but who have no understanding what it means to live the life of a Christian.



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jb

posted May 31, 2010 at 12:08 pm


“At what point does a parochial school administrator have to insist on religious particularity — that her teaching staff profess the religion around which the school is organized — on her faculty?”
Here’s the short answer: At no point.
I’m going to cop out and give an example from personal experience to justify this.
I attended a Catholic parochial for elementary and middle schools. Through 5th grade, all the teachers were Catholics laymen (though there were a few nuns as late as 2nd grade). In 6th grade, our teacher was called up by the Army (this was during Desert Storm) and the school was forced to suddenly find a substitute. They couldn’t find a Catholic long-term sub that came under budget and ended up hiring a young Lutheran teacher fresh out of college.
This was no small deal. Parents had a meeting to “express their concerns” about teaching the catechism and the school explored bringing in another teach just to teach the 55 minute daily religion class. Once again, finding an available teacher was a problem. The parents were concerned that their kids were of an age where students needed to move beyond “basic Christianity” and start getting into the weeds of Catholic dogma as they prepared for sites like confirmation in the years ahead. Eventually the new hire convinced the parents there would be no problem.
And he was right. The teacher was by no means a Catholic scholar — and in many ways was learning on the fly along with the rest of his students — but he believed in teaching and learned the material more thoroughly than any practicing Catholic religion teacher I had until later in high school.
Fast forward to college: maybe it was just a quirk of my learning experience, but I learned more about Catholicism from Jewish professors (and in one case a Confucian) than from any Catholic professors. They just knew the material.
I’ve always believed that teachers are supposed to pass on knowledge, not necessarily faith (though if they can do that too, good on ‘em). Requiring teachers to believe in whatever faith that is being professed seems to me to suggest that faith can only be transmitted by a believer. Faith is far more mysterious than that.



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MH

posted May 31, 2010 at 12:25 pm


In the case of Abby Nurre she claimed she wasn’t an atheist, but they based their claim she was on her answer to a FaceBook poll. Since she marked her FaceBook page private you really have to wonder how this information got into the hands of her employer. Also, she was a math teacher so how would religion or theology enter into the class?
The lesson here is when you use your real name on the internet your answers should be bland as bland can be. FaceBook is likely selling information to make money.
Now if the school is entirely private (no public funds) then theey certainly have a right to hire people as they see fit. But if there are funds going to the school then they lose that right. This is an example of how a school voucher program could backfire in the US.



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mdm

posted May 31, 2010 at 12:33 pm


I can certainly understand those here who think that as long as they don’t teach religion, a teacher’s religious beliefs (or lack thereof) shouldn’t come into play. But as someone who teaches religion at a Catholic school, I would say that it is crucial that teachers of all subjects are at least generally on board with the Catholic faith (one note: we have a few protestant teachers at my school, all of whom are very dedicated to their faith, all do a great job).
Part of the problem that all Christian traditions are having in passing on the faith is that young people today compartmentalize religion to a discouraging degree – faith exists for this reason, to be used only in these particular circumstances (basically moralistic therapeutic deism). For many of them, faith has no relevance to any other part of their lives…which is why their faith tends to be weak an ineffectual, and why many abandon it at first opportunity.
For Catholics schools to work, it has to be an “all hands on deck” approach, kids need to see that the science teacher, the math teacher, and the English teacher also have faith, that it touches all aspects of our lives, and that the Christian faith isn’t just for “religious types.”
I have many non-believing friends, who are wonderful people, so that’s obviously not the question. But if a school is founded on and pursues a particular mission, it’s not out-of-bounds for the administer to expect that everyone subscribe to the mission, at least to a general degree.



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Scott Lahti

posted May 31, 2010 at 1:17 pm


Atheists who teach in parochial school
What’s next – chain-smoking couch potatoes teaching gym class? Moving castrati from teaching choir to teaching sex ed, and replacing them as choirmaster with Carl “Alfalfa” Switzer? “? I’m in the mood for LU-U-U-V, simply because you’re NEEEAR me…?”



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Turmarion

posted May 31, 2010 at 1:23 pm


What comes out here and what a lot of people don’t realize is that modern Catholic schools, for the most part, are pretty much like public schools only with religion classes (taught with varioius degrees of seriousness and effectiveness) and an occasional Mass. I say this having worked in one for a year and a half. It wasn’t as egregious as what Erin describes, but the vibe wasn’t that much different from public schools I’ve worked in. The main difference was (as in any private school, religious or otherwise) the socio-economic group was somewhat higher and for that reason there was a more “genteel” feel; and of course the kids wore uniforms, so you didn’t see facial piercings and torn t-shirts. Still, beyond the cosmetics, it wasn’t a lot different from public schools I’ve taught in. All the teachers these days are laity, and in the school I was in they weren’t all Catholic.
My feeling is that what with budgetary crises, parish consolidation, and such, Catholic schools are being marketed as better than public in providing an education and getting kids into college. Thus, they’re pitching to non-Catholics as well as Catholics, and advertising essentially on the same basis that any other prestigious, private school or charter school might. It’s no accident, in fact, that charter school proponents just love Catholic schools, since they help support their claims of the inferiority of public schools. The original purpose of educating children in an atmosphere that helped them to grow into Catholic adults, has been, of course, lost in the shuffle. This is why, while mdm has a point, it’s irrelevant to the current situation, since that isn’t even the model being used in most dioceses. What to do about that is another can of worms I won’t get into.
Like Jon, I have a friend and former co-worker who is Baptist but who had taught math for awhile at a Jewish school with no trouble at all.
As to hiring, I’d say this. A religious school has the right to hire by any criteria it wishes, so if they hire only from the faith, that’s fine. On the other hand, if they do allow teachers to be outside the faith, then I don’t see any problem in principle with an atheist or agnostic, so long as it’s in a field where it’s not relevant (e.g. math, science, etc.) and as long as the teacher doesn’t feel uncomfortable in the environment (in short, he’s not a Richard Dawkins-type atheist!) and doesn’t push his views on the kids. I, for one, as a Catholic whose areas are science and math, would have no problem teaching those topics in a non-Catholic religious school (as long as it wasn’t one that touted young-Earth creationism). I don’t see a problem with it.
MH, you’re right about Facebook. A teacher probably would do best not even to have an account at all on it or any other social-networking site, given how freaky parents anc administrators can be about stuff that simply is not their business.
CAPTCHA: mistypes situation Now if that isn’t the truest damn description of CAPTCHA ever!



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kenneth

posted May 31, 2010 at 1:24 pm


They may be within their rights to insist on Catholic teachers, but it’s not likely to be a productive approach. Once you go down that road, it seems you have to get into the question of “how Catholic is Catholic enough?” There are tens of millions of people in this country alone who are lapsed Catholics, tens of millions more who are nominal Catholics. I’m a defected Catholic, and yet under canon law, still Catholic. Unless they bothered to check my records at an archdiocese, I could land a teaching job over a qualified non-Catholic Christian instructor.
Let’s say we get a Catholic candidate who is reasonably sincere about their faith. How do we know they’re really in accordance with Rome and “true” Catholics? Do we have to ascertain if they’re using birth control? If they’ve been divorced and remarried, what if an annulment isn’t in order? Do we have to probe their beliefs on gay marriage and make sure they attend Mass every week and keep up with confession? My wife taught in a Catholic School (two of them) for several years. She is a Catholic who is in reality an agnostic at best. The deal was simple in those days. Teachers just had to respect the atmosphere, teach what they were supposed to and carry on professionally.



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Andrea

posted May 31, 2010 at 1:27 pm


The principal of the local Catholic high school is not Catholic and as far as I know neither is the science teacher or some of the other instructors. I do think those people are active in other churches in the community. About 1/3 of the kids in the high school aren’t Catholic either. On the other hand, they have beefed up the Catholic nature of the school in recent years and when I’ve been in the school they pray before the start of classes, there’s a crucifix hung on the classroom walls, statues of Mary, Jesus and Joseph and a large crucifix at the school entrance and the prayer for before and after meals hung on the cafeteria wall, etc. They talk about faith in science or English classes while teaching the lessons. The Protestant teachers seem to talk about their own faith when it comes to school food drives or community service projects and when it comes to those things there isn’t much difference in Catholic or Lutheran or Methodist efforts. I imagine it would be extremely uncomfortable for an atheist to teach in a school like that and be sincere. I don’t think the parents would be comfortable with it either.



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Jolo5309

posted May 31, 2010 at 1:47 pm


Maybe a better solution would be to eliminate separate schools altogether? This would reduce the number of school boards required and would allow for more money to be spent on thestudents.
You could add comparitive religions or something along that line to the curriculum as well.



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GrantL

posted May 31, 2010 at 2:10 pm


Turmarion wrote: “As to hiring, I’d say this. A religious school has the right to hire by any criteria it wishes, so if they hire only from the faith, that’s fine.”
So long as it is not on the public purse. This is the problem in Ontario, which is the context of the bit Rod quoted above. Catholic schools are funded publicly, but permitted to use highly discriminatory hiring practices. The attitude is “we will take your tax dollars and do whatever we want with it.” I’m sorry but that is just unethical. If they want to have this sort of exclusionary hiring policy, then fine do it, but do it with private money. By taking public funds they become a public institution and should be subject the same rules as every other publicly funded institution. A hospital cannot refuse to hire someone based on their skin tone, religion, sexual orientation or gender. If a Catholic board wants tax money, they should follow the same rules. This is the real issue here!
I went to a Catholic school myself in Alberta. And yes, as you said, the education was mostly no different than the “public” schools because both board followed the same government mandated curriculum . But “religion class” was not a comparative religion class. It was Catholic dogma class in which we were told that all other religions were bad, including other kinds of Christians (not really Christians who don’t really have churches. Echoes of what the present pope is often on about.) In fact, I can say without much reservations that one of the key experiences that lead me to reject Christianity was my experience in Catholic school.



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MH

posted May 31, 2010 at 2:35 pm


So we have atheists teaching at parochial schools, seminaries that ruin faith, and pastors who don’t believe in God. Hmm, it seems like the New Atheists can just coast and take the next decade off.



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Geoff G.

posted May 31, 2010 at 2:38 pm


Interesting question. I largely agree with John E.’s formulation. I’d be leery of allowing an atheist to teach a religion class (even though anyone can teach the theology; heck, I probably know Catholic theology quite a bit better than many Catholics).
I would point out that every teacher, even a math teacher, is a potential mentor and source of advice for the kids in his or her classroom, meaning that such a teacher might well inadvertently pass along opinions or advice that lack an imprimatur.
That being said, I would hope that every school looks to the ability of their teaching staff to excel in their particular subject first and foremost.
Incidentally, I, too, was taught in parochial school myself from the first through fifth grade, by both devout (as far as I remember) lay teachers and nuns. After that, I had CCD for the next two years. All of that laid a good foundation for arguing with the faithful, but alas, the religion itself seems not to have stuck terribly well.



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public_defender

posted May 31, 2010 at 2:42 pm


I think sectarian schools should be prudent in their use of religious tests, but anyone applying for a job at a religious school also needs to be prudent.
Religious schools need to decide if it’s better to have, say, a deeply faithful but otherwise mediocre math teacher, or a fantastic atheist math teacher who’s prudent enough not to teach anything inconsistent with the school’s faith. There’s a trade off there. For some communities, maybe it’s worth it to sacrifice pedagogical quality for religiously correct beliefs. But it will be a trade off at least some of the time.
Having religious tests also means that the employer will have difficult line drawing to do. Few people believe everything their institutional church says, so employing religious tests forces schools to decide just how much doubt or dissent teachers can show before losing their job. Plus, to be fair, the schools really need to set that all out in advance.
Teachers who apply to religious schools also need to decide whether they want to be part of a religious community. I once cut short a substitute teacher interview at a Protestant school because it became clear that they had religious expectations I could not meet.
Finally, here’s a Golden Rule of job seeking: One sign you’ve applied for the wrong job is that you have to lie to get it.



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JayR

posted May 31, 2010 at 3:13 pm


Religious schools need to decide if it’s better to have, say, a deeply faithful but otherwise mediocre math teacher, or a fantastic atheist math teacher who’s prudent enough not to teach anything inconsistent with the school’s faith.
Two stories, both having to do with teaching math at the college level:
1. When I was interviewing for faculty positions, I spoke (at his request) with the chair of a small parochial school in the midwest. There was no doubt as to why he was interviewing me: his was a small department and I could capably teach most of the mathematics and computer science curriculum that they were offering. During the interview he asked me what sort of Christian I was and how I would integrate my faith into the classroom. He was nonplussed when I said that I was actually Jewish and that I had no idea how to integrate religion into a mathematics course. We left the interview with the mutual belief that each had wasted the other’s time, which I think was less fair on his part given that he asked to speak with me. I would have actually wanted to speak more with him about pedagogy, because I would have looked forward to discussing with him how to interpret the Mean Value Theorem in a Wesleyan context.
At the same set of meetings I turned down repeated requests to meet with the faculty at a small southern school with the word “Baptist” in its name. I knew there was no chance that either I was a good fit for them or that I would be moving to a small town south of the Mason-Dixon line, so why get their hopes up? But they had no reason to believe, a priori that I was Christian, but every reason to believe that I could fill a slot on their faculty that desperately needed filling.
I’d like to believe that both of these schools cared more about my skill in my discipline than my faith, and might be the case, but I think there was also the bigotry unconsciously practiced by many Christians, which is to assume that everyone is a Christian and to act surprised when they find out that someone isn’t.
2. When I was in graduate school I caught someone cheating in a class I was teaching. There were some circumstances that I thought were mitigating, so I didn’t throw the entire book at him. He wrote me a long letter thanking me for my charity and forgiveness, placing it in the context of his Christian faith and suggesting that I must be a Christian as well, since I was setting such an example for him to live by. I never took the opportunity to disabuse him of the notion, although I took some amusement at imagining how such a conversation would go.
What’s the final lesson I take from these? A parochial school is certainly within its bounds to hire somebody that they think will fit into their community, but teaching advanced courses requires specialists and most parochial schools recognize this. And also, as the second anecdote reveals, if you are teaching an advanced course well then there is really no reason for someone to be able to *infer* anything about your religious persuasion at all.



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Cecelia

posted May 31, 2010 at 4:25 pm


I’d note the difference between Canadian schools and US schools – Canadian schools that are religious are also funded by public funds unlike the US – so this does create a different issue. In the US – since anyone going to a parochial school is paying tuition (or getting aid) the school – not using public funds – has the right to teach religion. Part of this is creating an environment – things like morning prayer and daily mass etc.
Back in the paleolithic when I went to Catholic school – parents did so because they wanted their kids educated in the faith and generally speaking only Catholics went to those schools. That is not often the motive now- people looking for an alternative to public schools will send their kids to Catholic schools without any religious motivation – they are simply looking for a better school. Consider that the enrollment in urban Catholic schools is approx 90% African American – which is not a group that is Catholic. This has really changed Catholic schools in areas where this occurs in that the culture of the school and often the purpose changes. Of course – less nuns teaching in the schools has also changed things. Within this environment I think it is inevitable that non Catholics will be teachers – especially in the high schools.
I do think in the primary grades it is important that the teacher be able to faithfully model the values of that religion – consider that in the primary grades you are also preparing the child for first penance and first communion – I’d imagine that would be hard to do if you were not Catholic yourself.
I think the larger issue is that the purpose of Catholic schools has changed – these schools tend to thrive in places where the public schools are not satisfactory and often where there is a less affluent class of people who seek a better opportunity by sending their kids to the Catholic school. In these cases the purpose of the school is less religious education and more about social issues – creating opportunity for kids in areas where the public schools are failing. Understandably – when the purpose changes – the presence of people who are Catholic becomes less important than having a commitment to the social goals of the school.



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Erin Manning

posted May 31, 2010 at 4:41 pm


MH, or in other words, “The best lack all conviction, while the worst/Are full of passionate intensity.” In the light of this cultural reality, I wonder, does it matter whether an atheist presents herself as a Catholic, or a Catholic presents herself as a believer? It’s all relative…



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MH

posted May 31, 2010 at 5:00 pm


JayR, I’m flummoxed that someone thought you could integrate religion into a math or CS course. It makes you wonder what answer would have satisfied him? Just a generic affirmation or a we pray the bugs away?
Erin Manning, well I hope that the quiet action of those in the best camp speaks louder than the passionate intensity of those in the worst camp. Irrespective of specific beliefs or isms.



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pagansister

posted May 31, 2010 at 5:29 pm


As can be seen by my “name” I’m not Catholic. I taught 10 years in a Catholic school…in kindergarten. Up front the principal knew I wasn’t Catholic….told her when she called me to come in for an interview. There was no space for “religion” on the application. She wanted to interview me because I had the qualifications. I had no problem teaching the necessary religious subjects that 5 year olds get. To me it was no different than the math,reading readiness, social studies, etc. that are taught…religion was just another subject. I already knew some of the prayers, (Hail Mary, Our Father) so teaching those was no problem. There is a book for every subject, even religion. I never did or would have inserted my own feeling about what the children were being taught…the parents had no problem with me not being Catholic, as it was no secret among the faculty, staff or parents. Mass was attended by the children as a class every month, I just didn’t take communion. (but the ddin’t either because they were too young). The important thing to me was the love and respect being taught to the children, and the love and caring given to the children by the teachers…all were lay teachers except for 1 aged nun. I was 1 of 2 non-Catholics in the school. The school went to 8th grade. I do not consider myself an atheist, but more of an agnostic. However it is, at least to me, totally possible to be an atheist and teach in a religious school. But maybe that is just me, since I have done it. I retired 5 years ago, so that was my last teaching job, and the only one in a religious school. I enjoyed it very much.



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pagansister

posted May 31, 2010 at 5:32 pm


One other thing…all the children in the school weren’t Catholic…we even had a Buddhist child at one time.



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Franklin Evans

posted May 31, 2010 at 6:38 pm


For me, it’s all about setting the ground rules at the very beginning, and refrain from whining because you silently disagreed with a rule that later came back to haunt you (or bite you).
I find it rather unbelievable that an applicant for a position in a school owned and operated by a religion could possibly believe that they deserve a position at that school if they are not members of that religion. The other side of that coin is if such a school wants to hire non-believers, they must be very clear on what the non-believers will be expected to do, explain in detail what accomodations (if any) they will offer a non-believer, and be very clear on what sorts and degrees of discrimination they expect to the non-believer to tolerate.
That last, while seemingly snarky, is the most critical one of the bunch. I would not want to find myself a non-believer on a campus where my non-belief was not known from the very beginning. I personally would not accept such a position if they asked for or insisted on any amount of “discretion” on my part.
nonpartisan limeades
ahem



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MH

posted May 31, 2010 at 6:51 pm


Franklin, as mentioned above there’s the complicating factor that it took place in Canada and the school accepts public funds. So non-discrimination laws might come into play.
As I mentioned above I find the more interesting aspect of this was that she was outed by either a FaceBook poll she took from her private profile or the fact that she joined Atheist Nexus. Here’s the link to the story on USA today: http://www.usatoday.com/news/religion/2010-05-29-fired28_ST_N.htm



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MH

posted May 31, 2010 at 6:55 pm


I’m going to retract my comment about Canada because I re-read the USA today article and this case was in Fort Dodge Iowa. I think the claims about Canada above we for something else.



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Jeff

posted May 31, 2010 at 7:06 pm


I definitely agree it should be up to each individual school to choose whether or not they want people of other faiths teaching their students, and if they do, what limits they want to impose on what those teachers teach to their students when it comes to matters of faith, particularly when teaching certain values/doctrines that are part of that school’s mission.
One thing I’d point out, though, when it comes to subjects other than those faiths…say, geography or mathematics, is that if the school choose to limit its pool of acceptable candidates for teaching positions on the basis of faith, there’s a chance it will decrease the quality of education in those subjects that it provides to students. It might not be a problem in Catholic schools, since Catholics make up such a large percentage of the population of the U.S., but in the instance of a Jewish school, you could easily envision a scenario where say, the best nine applicants in terms of innate talent, experience, and qualifications for a position teaching high school calculus are all non-Jews, so the school winds up selecting the tenth best teacher of the group and ultimately provides an inferior education in calculus than it otherwise might have.
Something to consider.



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Franklin Evans

posted May 31, 2010 at 7:09 pm


Thank, MH. I was responding to the more general point of the case.
In the Iowa case, the law is quite clear: It starts with whether the state is an “at-will” employment state. That means that except for other purposes (like criminal statutes, unemployment regs, etc.) both the employer and the employee are free to end the employment arrangement without prior notice. If notice is not part of the employment contract, it becomes a custom and/or courtesy, nothing more.
From there, my previous post is my position. I’d want to see the school’s application verbiage, see a transcript of the interview, and find where the “principles” of the school are published. Nurre was not necessarily there under false pretenses, but she clearly lacked a critical qualification from the POV of the school. I see no reason to argue the case beyond those facts, especially not from any politically correct sop to Nurre’s feelings. I would, at some point, seek clarity on the ethical stance of the school, and whether or not they clearly disclosed to Nurre their reaction to statements of non-faith.
Before anyone thinks to raise the discrimination part, they should also determine the facts: Does the school receive federal or state funds collected from taxpayers? If so, sue them. If not, leave them alone and find some other target.



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public_defender

posted May 31, 2010 at 8:06 pm


If the article correctly describes what happened, the priest in charge of the school fired her based on one comment on her Facebook page that might or might not represent her views without giving her the opportunity to explain, or the chance to see if she was honestly working through a period of damaged faith, or had never had faith to begin with. (Remember, the letter of dismissal was written when she went in to meet her boss.) I think Catholic schools have the right to have Catholic teachers, but (if the article is correct), the priests actions appear imprudent, arrogant, and short-sighted.
If you are a teacher at this priests school and have doubts about your faith, you risk your job by expressing them. Instead, you lead a hollow life peppered with hallow rituals. You have zero opportunity to try to come back to faith because coming back to faith involves acknowledging that your faith is faltering.
Maybe there’s more going on than the article suggests. Maybe outward obedience and mindless ritual are the focal points of Monsignor McCoy’s faith. It’s hard to tell from one article.
One thing that does seem clear is that this school enforces a sort of Catholic School version of DADT. Atheism is OK, just keep it in the closet, and don’t try to get your faith back.



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M.S.

posted May 31, 2010 at 10:47 pm


With all do respect, I think that this issue is important but I can not understand why this issue has taken so much attention while life and death in Ontario Schools seems to have taken a back seat. We have had two young people disappear from the front doors of Ontario schools in the last year. We have confirmed that bullying is tied to two children who couldn’t take it any more and killed themselves. We have a school board in London Ontario that is acting surprised that they lost $800,000 over ten years after the millions of dollars we have spent on school boards and school administrators. We even had a child hit with dog feces thrown by a school principal and the school administrator wasn’t even diciplined by the Ontario College of Teachers. Hundreds of cases of bullying has been allowed to occur and parents are now asking questions. One teacher who stood up against the Bullies at the Ontario College of Teachers who questioned their policy of allowing sex offenders to teach was suspended and fined. I can not imagine why the group who calls themselves “Parents for Education” has literally ignored all these issue including the discloure that teachers who have had sex with students are allowed to teach in Ontario.
http://www.thespec.com/News/Local/article/777903
http://www.parentcentral.ca/parent/newsfeatures/article/727868–why-canada-can-t-stop-bullies
http://www.oxfordreview.com/ArticleDisplay.aspx?e=2255724
http://www.thestar.com/News/article/226840
http://www.ctv.ca/servlet/ArticleNews/story/CTVNews/20061101/whistleblower_teachers_061115/20061115/
http://canadians4accountability.org/blog/category/ontario-college-of-teachers/
http://www.thepeterboroughexaminer.com/ArticleDisplay.aspx?e=2194869



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James Kabala

posted May 31, 2010 at 11:10 pm


I am actually surprised that there are dioceses (one in Canada no less!) that require teachers in Catholic schools to be Catholic. As other commenters have noted, there are many (most?) dioceses where, rightly or wrongly, that is not at all a requirement.
I would also like to quote Get Religion commentetr Brian Walden, who notes that many things seem phony about the Toronto story:
“Something doesn’t add up in the Toronto story. The teacher is not Catholic, yet she’s going to regular confession. Normally if you’re coming into the Church you make your first confession just before you’re received into the Church – not regularly throughout the RCIA process. And it’s possible that this person has never been baptized, the article says she’s not religious and mentions no previous Christian affiliation – if that’s the case why is she going to confession at all?
And why would she need to go to confession regularly to receive the documents she needs to teach? The Church extremely protective of privacy in the confessional, I can’t imagine any bishop allowing a school in his diocese to require teachers to show that they’ve gone to confession.
About the description of her first confession, most churches do not have confessional boxes anymore – they have small rooms instead. And why was the confessional dark? The priest outright asking about a specific sin is very strange, I’ve confessed to many priests and some ask if I have anything else I’d like to confess but never ask about specific sins. Maybe, because it was her first confession, he was walking her through an examination of conscience and actually asked her several questions and that one question startled her.
And what does it mean that she’s performed religious rituals? That’s just odd phrasing for describing Catholics – with no context provided it could mean just about anything.
So maybe she’s entering the Church by working directly with a priest instead of going through RCIA like 99% of converts do, and maybe for some reason she’s going to regular confession even though that’s not what’s supposed to happen, and maybe her church still has confessional boxes, and maybe they’re dark, and maybe the priest asks her random questions about her sex life and has her ‘perform religious rituals.’ But it sounds this woman, because she’s only faking it, doesn’t have the language to describe what’s happening like someone who’s honestly going through RCIA would and the journalist embellished a few details (like a dark, scary confessional box) or the whole thing is made up.”



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Tina

posted June 1, 2010 at 12:42 am


I went to Catholic school for 12 years and have a Masters’ in Physics. You ask how you religion/faith comes into Math or Computer Science? It’s actually very easy to work being Catholic into these classes. You can focus on certain mathematicians who were Catholic. You can have applications of the math concepts with a religious bent, for example, my 8th grade class built a scale model of a cathedral. In the case of science, you can have discussions about ethics and morals, especially when designing experiments using real people.
The problem is that we have compartmentalized religion, when it should be interdisciplinary. Being Catholic is a worldview, a specific way of looking at things. That is the role of a Catholic school, not just to educate, but to pass on a Faith.
Now the effectiveness of this may be questionable.



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public_defender

posted June 1, 2010 at 8:02 am


I see Tina’s point. I can also see why a Catholic school would want to integrate religious teaching into all classes. I also recognize the legal right of religious schools to discriminate on the basis of faith.
My points were practical and prudential. Sometimes, a Catholic School can get both excellence in teaching and a doctrinal correctness in the same person. But the reality of hiring is that if you value one quality, you often have to sacrifice others. Not always, but often.
As to the person who pointed out that the pool of Catholics was large in the US, that’s true in one sense. But relatively few American Catholics agree with or live by the Church’s teaching on some major issues.
That leads to the a whole host of practical problems in enforcing faith requirements. How much doubt can a teacher show before losing her job? What criticisms of the Catholic Church and its practices are allowed? If a teacher thought his bishop and the Pope were being grossly immoral in their handling of sexual abuse matters, could the teacher get fired for saying so? What about a teacher who uses birth control? (I know, DADT.) What about putting up an “Obama” yard sign or supporting a candidate who is pro-choice or pro -marriage? (By “pro-marriage,” I mean a candidate who thinks its better for the children of gay parents to enjoy the protections of marriage.) What about a teacher who supports the death penalty? Or a teacher who says that American Bishops did not honestly characterize the recent health care reforms? Or, more abstractly, a teacher who expresses doubt as to some small, but important detail in the Catholic description of the Trinity or of role of Mary? If a teacher goes through a period of spiritual doubt, must she be fired?
Again, I recognize the legal right of Catholic Schools to discriminate. I can even understand why they would want to discriminate. But enforcing official discrimination creates a number of practical and prudential problems.



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GrantL

posted June 1, 2010 at 9:52 am


MH wrote: “Franklin, as mentioned above there’s the complicating factor that it took place in Canada and the school accepts public funds. So non-discrimination laws might come into play….I’m going to retract my comment about Canada because I re-read the USA today article and this case was in Fort Dodge Iowa. I think the claims about Canada above we for something else.”
actually you have part of the situation here in Canada correct. Non-discrimination laws do come into play..sort of.
In any other setting, where an institution gets public funds they cannot discriminate against people when hiring on the basis of religion, sex etc. The Catholic school boards, however, get a pass because of 19th century political compromise that gets written into modern laws. So while say, a hospital cannot refuse to hire a doctor or nurse based on their religion, a Catholic school can. The situation is completely unacceptable.
Frankly, those of us living in countries where the separation of church and state is not written into our constitutions as it should be, are amazed to listen to American squabble over nonsense like “this is a Christian Nation” or “separation of church and state is a myth” when the the separation has protected both our public and religious institutions. I sometimes think ya’ll don’t realize just how lucky you are.



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Jeremy

posted June 1, 2010 at 5:24 pm


“I would struggle with a teacher who said she didn’t have any problem keeping her (say) Catholicism to herself in the Protestant classroom. Could she really? Is it fair to ask that of her? Is it possible that anyone who was serious about their faith could do that?”
Your question seems funny to me Rod — mostly because it relates so closely to my own situation and yet I’ve never looked at it the way you do. I am myself a teacher looking desperately for a job in a tough market. I am also an Orthodox Christian. Sure, I would love to teach at an Orthodox school, but there just aren’t that many in the country. So I’ve been sending my resume to Catholic schools, Protestant schools, secular private schools, and lots of public schools as well.
One evangelical school I applied to had a statement of faith I had to agree to. Only one clause in it was problematic to me (it was something about the Church being a fellowship of believers, which is true of course but I was afraid the clause was meant to limit what the Church should be believed to be). So I emailed the school about it, explaining what the issue was, and that I was an Orthodox Christian and would probably disagree with them on a lot of issues not in the statement, but saying that I felt we agreed on the most central things and asking whether I could make an exception on that point. They were very understanding and assured me that their faith was probably closer to mine than I though. They eventually interviewed me as well.
Was this wrong of them? Was it wrong of me?
I don’t believe it was. The fact is, I would feel much more comfortable at an evangelical school than I would at a public school — I would be able to freely talk about God, and about Christ, and about right and wrong, and about other religions. I can’t do any of that a public school. I find the public school environment makes it difficult even to discuss morality.
Do you really think that I would be compromising my Orthodox faith? I am open to correction, so please tell me if you do and explain why.



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Franklin Evans

posted June 2, 2010 at 12:19 pm


Jeremy, not only would I reject any charge that you (or that school) did wrong, I would hold you up as an exemplar of the only correct and valid way to approach this subject.
You identified a possible point of conflict with the school. You informed them of it before any commitments, explicit or implied, were offered by either side, and you and they proceeded from there. In short, you acted ethically.
Your personal situation’s details become irrelevant (no, not per se!) to the main point: If people act ethically, these conflicts and their later consequences would simply not happen.
Acting ethically is, far and beyond other aspects of our culture, the starting point for every aspect of the so-called culture war. Note, too, that I use “ethically” rather than “morally” with specific intent, because codes of ethics can (and do) have connections to morals, but nonetheless have independent existence and effect in our lives. I would, on that basis, change this thread’s subject to “Atheists who unethically accept jobs at parochial schools.”



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Alisia linus

posted July 18, 2011 at 2:02 pm


Regis Jesuit High School in Colorado hires both non-accredited and atheist/agnostic liberal faculty and staff . Teachers are not paid nearly as much as public school teachers and there is no public funding as in Canada. However, there is plenty of tax deductible fundraising to fill tuition gaps and provide scholarships. You don’t have to be involved with any religion or even believe in God to teach there; there is an application policy but it is not followed.

Something else I’ve personally seen; the archdiocese of Northern Colorado has hired non-accredited grammar school teachers. Don’t believe me? Ask to see the school’s accreditation records; I was told they “aren’t available” by the superintendent of Catholic schools. I’m aware of an agnostic at St Thomas More, Centennial teaching with the archdiocese, pastor and principal’s knowledge for years.

This is not meant to be a witch hunt but be aware! Those with ears to hear, save thousands per year and your children’s faith life; either home school your kids or send them to one of the excellent public high schools combined with spending a fraction of that money and most importantly, your time, with a good faith-based youth group.

I think you will find it is very opportunistic and convenient for out of work, non-accredited teachers to fudge on the application process in Catholic schools and there is not a serious interview process to find the truth of their religious beliefs, double wink-wink.



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