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Hold firm, Benet Academy, for LGBTQ rights

It’s time to wear those rainbow colors again, students and faculty. Because lacrosse coach Amanda Kammes is right where she belongs.

Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

About those rainbow colors. They are not confusing.

Not in a day when same-sex marriage is legal in all 50 states, when the biggest city in the culturally moderate Midwest elects a gay woman as mayor, and when a teen pop star, JoJo Siwa, dances with her same-sex partner on “Dancing With the Stars.”

We knew exactly what students and teachers at Benet Academy in Lisle were saying earlier this month when they wore rainbow colors on campus, even if Head of School Stephen Marth claimed to find it a little “confusing.”

They were standing up for tolerance, acceptance, love and — they stressed — their Christian values by protesting the school administration’s decision to rescind a job offer to a respected girls lacrosse coach, Amanda Kammes, solely because she was married to another woman.

And if any more clarity was necessary, they spelled it out in an online petition demanding that the school reverse course and hire Kammes:

“By rejecting a talented potential staff member on the basis of whom she loves, you have utterly failed to uphold the principles of dignity and charity that you purport to practice as a Christian institution,” they wrote. “We are ashamed of your narrow interpretation of Christian morality.”

“The right candidate”

Well, things all worked out. If only for the moment.

After a Benet Academy board of directors meeting on Sept. 20, the administration decided to hire Kammes after all, saying her “background and experience” made her “the right candidate for the position.” The school’s board and administration actually had listened to the arguments of the students and teachers, and many of us dared to hope this might mark a new attitude by Catholic schools with respect to hiring LGBTQ people.

Well, again. Not so fast.

On Tuesday, the school’s chancellor, Abbot Austin Murphy of St. Procopius Abbey, said he was “deeply troubled by the school’s decision which calls into question its adherence to the doctrines of the Catholic faith.”

It’s unclear whether Murphy has the authority to override the decision to hire Kammes, but the school was founded by the abbey, and Murphy serves on the board of directors. He’s in a position, at the very least, to throw this hiring decision up for grabs.

It’s time to wear those rainbow colors again, students. It’s time to remind Murphy that gay rights are human rights, that nobody’s going back into the closet, and that when any religious group is deeply divided on a question of right and wrong — as American Catholics are on this one — it is always better to lean toward greater compassion and acceptance.

Plus, great instructors like Kammes, a Benet alum herself, don’t come along every day.

“Ministerial exceptions” must be true exceptions

As a legal matter, it is an open question whether Benet Academy, or any faith-based school, is on firm ground in refusing to hire a teacher or coach because of their sexual orientation.

Last year, a majority of the U.S. Supreme Court, in the case of Bostock v. Clayton County, ruled that an employer who fires a person for being homosexual or transgender is violating Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits employment discrimination based on race color, religion, sex or national origin.

But the court also has allowed for a “ministerial exception” to this prohibition when it comes to religious institutions choosing their clergy and others who work in ministry.

The question then becomes whether teachers and coaches — such as a girls lacrosse coach at Benet Academy — credibly can be claimed, in a secular American court, to be working in ministry.

To our thinking, that’s an absurd stretch, not unlike claiming a ministerial exception to hiring an African American teacher or coach. In a nation that holds civil rights to be precious, ministerial exceptions should be truly exceptions.

And yet, more than 100 Catholic church workers in the last decade, including teachers, have lost their jobs in LGBTQ-related employment disputes that went public, according to New Way Ministry, an organization that advocates for LGBTQ Catholics.

The administration of Benet Academy listened to its better angels, as channeled by the school’s students and faculty, in reversing course and hiring Kammes. May it never stop listening or standing up for what’s right.

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