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The Catholic Church's Morality Clause, An Abandonment of the Right to Privacy

Updated on February 10, 2015
AudreyHowitt profile image

Audrey is a poet, classical singer and voice teacher, recovering attorney and licensed psychotherapist.


I first began this article a year ago. Last March, the East Bay Diocese of the Catholic Church presented a new contract all teachers K-12 within its diocesan purview. The new contracts contained a morality clause.

This past week, the archdiocese of San Francisco presented a similar contract to their teachers at four schools. This time, the language is even more draconian. Many in the district are protesting.


Under the proposed language:


Administrators, faculty and staff members are not to “visibly contradict, undermine or deny” these and other truths in their professional or personal lives.

“The church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women.”

“Any well-formed conscience always rejects direct, intentional abortion; we are not 'pro-choice.’”

The “fundamental demands of justice require that the civil law preserve the definition of marriage as the union of one man and one woman.”


“The sinfulness of contraception” ... any such action to “render procreation impossible is intrinsically evil.”

“The grave evil of reproductive technology” — including sperm or egg donations or surrogacy — is an immoral infringement on a “child’s right to be born of a father and mother known to him and bound to each other by marriage.”

“Embryonic stem cell research can never be justified.”

Once again, the Catholic Church, under the guise of the First Amendment, and so very out of touch with the people it serves, seeks to undermine and destroy rights, including the rights to privacy and free speech. It is one thing to govern teachers within the purview of the classroom, it is another to govern their private lives.

In Catholic Dioceses across the country, there have been cases of teachers being fired after marrying their same sex partner. As more and more states legalize gay marriage, a number of Dioceses are requiring teachers to sign so-called morality clauses in their contract. Across the country, Catholic dioceses are pushing to free themselves from the burden of the Constitution and the antidiscrimination laws.

Most disturbing, the new contract language holds teachers to the same moral and legal standards as ministers. This comes on the heels of a U.S. Supreme Court case Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. EEOC which provides a "ministerial exception" to the First Amendment right of freedom of religion.

Federal civil rights law prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, sex, national origin, and Religion. But the ministerial exception says if you are a church or religious school, you are allowed to elevate any employee to the position of minister. By doing so, you can fire them for religious reasons.

This elevation to ministerial status does not provide any religious benefit or privilege. In fact, under Hosanna, it may in fact exist solely to prohibit the "minister" from suing the employer, despite the employer's blatant end run around the minister's basic civil rights.

This controversy is important. It pits two basic tenets of the First Amendment: freedom of religion against civil rights.

The language at issue specifically prohibits advocacy. One cannot visibly contradict, undermine or deny. Would a teacher be fired for protesting? For walking down the street holding hands with a partner of the same sex? For signing a petition? For having a bumper sticker on their car promoting gay rights?


it is important to note that in Hosanna-Tabor, the Court explicitly stated that it was not resolving any questions about contract law and the ministerial exception. Thus, it is likely that these contracts now being proposed by the Catholic Church across the country will be headed for the courts soon. More troubling however, is the scenario in which the less powerful employee, needing the job, signs the contract. Our Constitutional right to privacy, already chilled in a post 9/11 world, falls in danger of being eradicated.

Wasn't it not too long ago, that the Catholic Church used the same First Amendment arguments to protect their abusive priests and bishops?




http://www.law.cornell.edu/supremecourt/text/10-553

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    • Robert Sacchi profile image

      Robert Sacchi 14 months ago

      It would seem these morality clauses are what many employers do directly or indirectly. Cybill Shepherd lost her job as a spokesperson for the beef industry when she said she wanted to try eating less red meat. Employees are expected to promote their employers and certainly not undermine them.

    • AudreyHowitt profile image
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      Audrey Howitt 24 months ago from California

      Thank you reading and understanding this Mary! You are a gem

    • LadyFiddler profile image

      Joanna Chandler 2 years ago from On planet Earth

      To say the least the Catholic Church is hiding under the disguise of Christianity they are NO CHRISTIANS , but does everything opposing and contradictory to GOD and His word. They are used of Satan and I make absolutely no apology for it.

      If a priest was caught in buggery sexual abuse of young boys etc. You notice what they do? just move them to another parish to molest other boys. If they saw what they did as unfit and displeasing to God and mankind why don't they fire them instead of playing draft and shifting them around?

      Why do they deny a man from marrying , when that man is burning up and filled with lust but make their followers believe a priest is a holy man. While they destroy the nuns in the convent and make them whores as well as defile the boys and corrupt them no wonder so many people run when they hear Christian or God it is due to these types of things.

      Catholics teach people to pray to Mary that is idolatry God has no mother, Mary was Jesus Mother and we need not pray to her.

      Purgatory is a made up something to make money to pray the dead out of there. When we die is either heaven or hell we can go to.

      Indulgence : Is paying to sin in advance "MADNESS"

      They are NOT of God!!

      One day they'll take over this whole world they are already on top of things just praying for time and the go ahead.

    • Genna East profile image

      Genna East 2 years ago from Massachusetts, USA

      These tenants carry a tone that is medieval, Audrey. As a former Catholic who left the Church due to the dogma I couldn’t reconcile myself with (I felt phony as I couldn’t ascribe to it), I am shocked that years later, these actions still persist. Their position on contraception, alone, is blatantly out of touch with the actual practice of the majority of their parishioners. When will they learn? Excellent article, and quite revealing.

    • AudreyHowitt profile image
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      Audrey Howitt 2 years ago from California

      Thanks DreamerMeg! They can and will impose this or something like it on your friend

    • DzyMsLizzy profile image

      Liz Elias 2 years ago from Oakley, CA

      Pffft... I have no use for churches in the first place, and certainly no room for any who wants to stick their collective noses into people's private lives and bedrooms!

      But hey--there's a pseudo silver lining in that clause--if they want to hold them to the "same standards" as ministers, I guess they're condoning the molestation of kids!

      (and no, I do not condone that--but given all the news stories of such behavior...it seems they have less of a problem with that than with families deciding for themselves how large a family they can afford.)

    • AudreyHowitt profile image
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      Audrey Howitt 2 years ago from California

      Thank you Flourish!

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 2 years ago from USA

      This deserves much traffic. I am sharing and hope others do, too.

    • tirelesstraveler profile image

      Judy Specht 2 years ago from California

      Wow Audrey, This is all over the news today.

    • AudreyHowitt profile image
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      Audrey Howitt 2 years ago from California

      And what about sexual orientation poetryman? Where do you fall out on that one?

    • AudreyHowitt profile image
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      Audrey Howitt 2 years ago from California

      Hi Will--thank you for your thoughtful comments--if the same sports figure were fired for his sexual orientation, wouldn't that be against the law? But these morality clauses make that a "protected act" --so that the person fired would have no legal recourse--

    • poetryman6969 profile image

      poetryman6969 2 years ago

      I feel I should be able to do what I want in my own life. However, if I join an organization with a strict moral code with the understanding that will abide by that moral code I don't have a problem with it. If you are forced to work for someone with a draconian code against your will, then I think that is wrong. But a group of people have the right, I believe to say: We accept no one who drinks alcohol in our midst. And after they find out I still drink beer, they have right to kick me out as far as I am concerned.

      The real problem for me is when they take a condition you were born with and say you cannot be one of us due that. So if the national football league actually promulgated that no woman can be a running back under any condition, that might be a problem.

      Now about that guy in a wheelchair who supposedly sued a strip club because he wanted to be a stripper...I'm gonna punt on that one.

    • WillStarr profile image

      WillStarr 2 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      Morality clauses are very common, and widely used. I can think of two cases here in Phoenix where two sports figures were fired for violating their moral clauses, one by being arrested for drunk driving and one for soliciting a prostitute.

      Teachers seek out Catholic teaching jobs because the discipline is so much better, and in some areas, so is the pay.

    • DreamerMeg profile image

      DreamerMeg 2 years ago from Northern Ireland

      I have a friend, a non Catholic, who taught in a Catholic school for a number of years. They surely would not be able to impose this type of morality clause on her? And so they would then be discriminating between different employees because they could not elevate a non-Catholic to Ministerial level? It reminds me of the kind of morality imposed many years ago on teachers, where a single woman teacher becoming pregnant would immediately be sacked! I had thought that the world had moved on from this. Obviously not. I can understand the abortion requirement, even if I don't agree but to forbid parents from having a child by donation or surrogacy seems just cruel.

    • AudreyHowitt profile image
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      Audrey Howitt 2 years ago from California

      Thank you for reading this one Frank! And for your thoughtful comments!

    • AudreyHowitt profile image
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      Audrey Howitt 2 years ago from California

      Thank you for reading this one Lady Guinevere!

    • AudreyHowitt profile image
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      Audrey Howitt 2 years ago from California

      Thank you Mary for reading this one and for your thoughtful comments!

    • BlossomSB profile image

      Bronwen Scott-Branagan 2 years ago from Victoria, Australia

      Audrey, it is so brave of you to take this stand. Hopefully others will follow. I can't believe that those in authority are so out of touch with what goes on in real life. As others have written, the Bible tells us that God is love, but perhaps when they forbade the reading of the Bible, they also forgot to read it. Voted up.

    • tirelesstraveler profile image

      Judy Specht 2 years ago from California

      Having been reared in an eclectic spiritual background, what disturbed me most about this whole topic is the governments involvement. Either the first amendment stands on its own or it is powerless without big money to back it, which leaves whoever has the most money with the power. Voting up, up, and up.

    • fpherj48 profile image

      Paula 2 years ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

      I hesitated to comment Audrey, despite how strongly your hub stirred my tolerance level.

      As a recovering Catholic of nearly 4 decades, I pay no attention to what they do or don't do. There's actually no need to remain informed. They have been stuck in "PARK" in the dark ages since forever. Nothing changes, progresses or impresses.

      I'm also careful not to express my genuine disgust with the RC Church publicly, merely out of respect for my Catholic friends and family members.

      All I will say is that it has always amused me how these loved ones of mine want to bring this topic up because they are indeed interested in what I have to say. It's almost as if they envy my escape into freedom & expect me to encourage them. This however, is an individual personal choice and I wouldn't dream of imposing my beliefs on anyone else....They'll get smart in their own way in their own time.

      IMHO, no church screams, "Hypocrisy" louder or more blatantly than the RC Church. What more need be known?

      Honestly Audrey, By the time the RC Church wakes up.....it will be to empty churches everywhere. Currently, parishes are closing down and/or collaborating with other nearby parishes for lack of active congregations, at an alarming rate.

      I appreciate this hub, Audrey. It is upsetting, but factual and needs to be known. UP++++pinned & tweeted

    • MizBejabbers profile image

      MizBejabbers 2 years ago

      Audrey, it is a shame that the Catholic Church is moving back into the Dark Ages, but it isn’t just that church. I work in the field of legislative law, and I wish I could tell you some things that are going on right now to legislate away the average person’s rights in the name of protecting religion, but I am working under a vow of secrecy until those bills are actually filed. (Yes, I work for the government.) I can tell you that this stuff is actually being legislated upon us, and the courts are going to be busy. It is going to take civil rights organizations of many flavors to get our freedoms and rights back. I’m glad you opened this subject for discussion on HP.

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Isaac Weithers 2 years ago from The Caribbean

      I'm all for morality in the original sense of the word. It is unfortunate that the church (Catholic and denominations) have dabbled in double standards for so long, it appears hypocritical whether it goes backward or forward on these issues. Your article underscores the problem of how confused the church is.

    • AudreyHowitt profile image
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      Audrey Howitt 2 years ago from California

      Thank you for reading this gmwilliams. It is a dark time in the Church right now

    • always exploring profile image

      Ruby Jean Fuller 2 years ago from Southern Illinois

      Audrey, this hub is more proof that we need to change the whole system of how laws are passed, starting with the supreme court, two year term limits a must, then watch closely the local and federal judges, but most importantly the congress who passes laws based on their bias. The catholic church has always wanted it's members uneducated in civil rights. They are fully aware that the church will be nonexistent, in time if contraception is used. Thank you for writing about this. Privacy in all matters must be guarded.

    • AudreyHowitt profile image
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      Audrey Howitt 2 years ago from California

      Hey Sue! Thank you for taking the time to read this one and comment here!

    • tillsontitan profile image

      Mary Craig 2 years ago from New York

      I am a Catholic and have been all my life. My husband is a convert to Catholicism and all my children are Catholic. Having said that, any look into the history of the Catholic Church shows many dark periods where rulers stepped beyond the bounds of Catholicism to rule for their own personal reasons.

      It was so hoped that Pope Francis would return the Catholic Church to true Catholicism. Years ago people were encouraged not to read the Bible but that has long since disappeared along with so many other "false truths".

      These contracts are so disturbing on so many levels. Its hard to believe but Catholicism is based on the teachings of Jesus and those teachings are based on "love one another". Where is the love in these contracts?Like so many other things in the world it would seem we have lost our way and the Church has lost its love.

      I hope these contracts lose their way as well.

      Voted up, useful, and interesting.

    • Frank Atanacio profile image

      Frank Atanacio 2 years ago from Shelton

      a great article.. Audrey.. and it offers views from which you stand.. I don't support nor am I against the Catholic Church's Morality Clause.. I do believe it was important centuries ago.. but the world has changed.. but not being Catholic.. I am educated here with your article.. Frank

    • Lady Guinevere profile image

      Debra Allen 2 years ago from West By God

      Mary615, I am married to a catholic! The last time that I showed him on eof my articls he told me that he was Catholic....no duh I didn't know that for the last 15 years?! LOL. The cannot read the bible for themselves as that is what I told him to do that spawned a heated argument before I left the room.

      In their doctrine (now removed) It said that they are to keep their parish and clergy in the dark at all costs. That is exactly what they do! I never went back after reading that. We do not talk about religious either.

    • mary615 profile image

      Mary Hyatt 2 years ago from Florida

      I have relatives who are Catholics, and I avoid any conversation with them relating to our religious reliefs, because I know it is off limits. I do not agree with many of their teachings.

      Excellent Hub, and I learned some new facts. Voted UP and shared.

    • gmwilliams profile image

      Grace Marguerite Williams 2 years ago from the Greatest City In The World-New York City, New York

      The Roman Catholic religion has always been an authoritarian religion. This "clause" borders upon the totalitarian. Smart teachers and other school administrators will protest these despotic laws. Many Roman Catholics find their religion to be extremely out of touch in 21st century America. This draconianism by the Roman Catholic Church is the reason why so many Catholics have left the religion, including me. I left the Catholic Church almost 4 decades ago with NO regrets. The Roman Catholic Church has gotten WORSE, when will Catholics realize this and leave. It is not good to give power to one person or one entity. Excellent hub, voted UP!

    • profile image

      Sue Spiersch 2 years ago

      What a wonderfully well written article Audrey. You make very valid points. They are within their rights to make rules for an employees conduct in the classroom and while they are at work but they are certainly not within their rights to have those rules apply to a teachers' private lives. I hope someone has the guts to take this through the court system. I'd love to see someone fight it.

    • AudreyHowitt profile image
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      Audrey Howitt 2 years ago from California

      Thank you lambservant for your thoughtful comments. For me, religion must be compassionate and instill that in it's followers. Without compassion and love we are nothing

    • AudreyHowitt profile image
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      Audrey Howitt 2 years ago from California

      It is a difficult time Bill--Thank you!

    • lambservant profile image

      Lori Colbo 2 years ago from Pacific Northwest

      Interesting. I had no idea that they still considered contraception and reproductive technology as sinful and evil. I am glad you followed your conscience in writing this. I hope it doesn't get you in trouble. I know little about the Catholic church, and I don't know much about constitutional law. I know though in some ministries and churches (non Catholic) , people are required to be of the same faith and to live a biblical moral life. However, I have never seen it presented in such a way as you shared. When I have worked or volunteered with a Christian organization, I have only had to agree with their statement of faith, which come from the Bible. If I don't agree with it, then I don't do it. But I've never seen it presented in a harsh, threatening way. I have never seen a long list of "this is evil that is evil you will not do this or that." Some of those things would be included in the document you shared, but the verbiage used in it seems almost threatening. I felt intimidated just reading it. The fact that so much horrible, decades-long sexual misconduct and precious little done about it is indeed the ultimate hypocrisy. For me, I would not work for a religious institution that required me to be and do what they require if it's 1. Not biblical. 2. If it's not something I can commit to doing in my heart. 3. If they use such harshness and threatening communication. 4. If they themselves have a dirty house that needs cleaning.

      Sometimes, political correctness gets into the mix and everything is crazy. What I do know, is that whatever we do in word in deed, do it as unto the Lord (if you are a person of faith); that includes love. In fact that is the main ingredient. That document made the Catholic Church sounds almost ugly. I hope you all find a workable solution. God bless Audrey, I always love hearing whatever you have to say. And I think you are an amazing woman.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Audrey, I taught in the Catholic School System for seventeen of my eighteen years, so I'm with you 100% on this. I have always been amazed by the hypocrisy of the Church and its denial of that hypocrisy...these new edicts are no surprise at all.

    • AudreyHowitt profile image
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      Audrey Howitt 2 years ago from California

      Thank you for reading this Theresa--I hesitated about publishing it, but my gut churns about this

    • phdast7 profile image

      Theresa Ast 2 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      Excellent. Thank you for addressing these important issues. The direction the Church, or some of those within the Catholic Church are leaning is quite disturbing.