Catholic Culture Podcasts
Catholic Culture Podcasts

For the Love of Morality: Keep Government Minimal

By Dr. Jeff Mirus ( bio - articles - email ) | Feb 08, 2013

The Archdiocese of Cincinnati went up against Judge S. Arthur Spiegel when it tried to fire Christa Dias, a Catholic school employee, for using artificial insemination to become pregnant. Spiegel ruled against the Archdiocese on the grounds that there may be evidence of pregnancy discrimination in the case. This is another illustration of what I had in mind when I commented on the EEOC case involving Ashanti McShan.

We already know that we cannot count on justice from secular courts. Spiegel was completely uninterested in the mutually-understood morals clause in the legal contract between the Archdiocese and its employees. To Spiegel, the question was not whether the firing of Dias was appropriate under the contract in this case but whether the firing could be construed as inappropriate based on other cases in which the contract may not have been invoked in the same way (namely, a former male employee of the diocese who claims that he participated in artificial insemination without losing his job).

This raises two enormous problems. On the one hand, Spiegel appears to believe an employer is obligated to spot and eliminate every instance of immoral behavior if it wishes to take action against any immoral behavior. This is absurd. But it is also absurd that, on this basis, there is just as much reason to go back and force the former male employee to return any pay he received after he violated the morals clause in his contract, as there is to invalidate the firing of Dias!

I am reminded, not for the first time, of the story surrounding the investigation of Catherine of Siena’s holiness, after her death. It was reported that when some of her sisters paid their respects by kissing the dead saint’s feet, Catherine raised her foot to make it easier. The priest who investigated the alleged miracle interviewed the nuns. One young nun became enthusiastic about what God intended to communicate to the world through the movement of St. Catherine’s holy leg—rather like Judge Spiegel and Crista Dias excitedly telling us what the Archdiocese of Cincinnati was really communicating to the world when it fired Dias for artificial insemination.

But the priest quickly cautioned the young sister: “My dear sister," he interposed, "I do not ask you what God meant to communicate. Did you or did you not see the lifting of the foot?” And Judge Spiegel, with exactly the same admirable focus, might better have remarked: “My dear Ms. Dias, I do not ask you or your attorneys what the Archdiocese of Cincinnati meant when it terminated your employment. Did you or did you not violate your contract’s morals clause?”

There is already good reason for Catholics not to take each other to court (reread St. Paul in 1 Cor 6:1-8). Christa Dias is not a Catholic, although if she is a Christian, the same advice ought to apply. But even in a broader context, we must as a society ask whether this is the kind of government meddling we want to see each time an organization tries to shape itself in the optimum manner for its own particular purposes.

Is it really the role of government to ferret out every conceivable prejudice (as defined by itself) that can be used to regulate or reverse every conceivable employment decision? Is it within the legitimate scope of government to say that discrimination based on moral behavior is itself immoral? And isn’t this rather circular? Isn’t it a kind of moral discrimination, too? Why can government do this and not employers, or associations, or clubs? Is it because we have come to regard government as the font of our understanding of morality?

This cure really is far worse than the disease.

Jeffrey Mirus holds a Ph.D. in intellectual history from Princeton University. A co-founder of Christendom College, he also pioneered Catholic Internet services. He is the founder of Trinity Communications and See full bio.

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  • Posted by: Defender - Feb. 08, 2013 5:36 PM ET USA

    But what of dioceses (via their school administrators) that don't seem to care if they practice age, sex, religion and/or retaliation against their employees? There is no recourse for someone in an At-Will contract, no union support (because the bishop won't allow one for his employees) and a diocese that doesn't practice what it preaches. If there is no other recourse, then seeking relief from a secular court seems to be the only other option possible.