Margie Winters has taught at Waldron Mercy Academy, an elementary school in Merion, Pennsylvania, for eight years. Shortly after she was hired, she informed the principal of the school that she was in a same-sex marriage. She was told that this would not be an issue so long as she didn’t discuss it with her students.
However, as the Philadelphia Inquirer reported earlier today, Winters was fired last week after two parents found out about her marriage. One complained to the school; the other complained to the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, with which the school is affiliated. As Winters told the Inquirer, she felt the school was worried its “Catholic identity would be in jeopardy.” For its part, a spokesperson for the archdiocese denied any role in Winters’s firing.
The letter announcing that Winters would no longer teach at the academy didn’t directly specify the reason for her dismissal, but it didn’t have to. While it lauded the good work she had done as a teacher, it reminded school employees that:
In the Mercy spirit, many of us accept life choices that contradict current Church teachings, but to continue as a Catholic school, Waldron Mercy must comply with those teachings.
It’s abundantly clear that Winters was fired for being a lesbian, which is (probably) illegal in Lower Merion Township, where Waldron Mercy Academy is located. The township has an anti-discrimination ordinance on the books that prohibits hiring discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. While the ordinance carries a religious exemption, that exemption is voided for religious organizations that receive public funding — which Waldron Mercy Academy does in the form of the Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit and the Educational Improvement Tax Credit.
In the wake of the Supreme Court’s affirmation of marriage equality, along with a mounting push comprehensive housing and hiring discrimination protections, religious organizations are going to have to choose: They can either give up their tax breaks and public grants, or they can play by the same anti-discriminatory rules that everyone else does.