Religious Liberty and Transgender Catholic Teachers

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Just when it seemed that things could not get any weirder…

Oh yes, he did: One Mr. Mark Krolikowski, who taught religion at St. Francis Preparatory School in Queens, NY, for more than 30 years and now dresses like a woman and calls himself “Marla,” has sued the school for firing him.

Oh yes, he did: Queens County Supreme Court Judge Duane Hart ruled last week that the case could go forward, despite the school’s declaration that Mr. Krolikowski is a ministerial employee.

 

So much for the contention that “gay marriage” laws — and all that goes with them — won’t affect churches.

The case is difficult to follow, because the school can’t comment, because the documents (even the ruling — Judge Hart made it in court but hasn’t issued the documents yet) aren’t readily available, and because although Mr. Krolikowski has a lot to say, it’s hardly unbiased.

The facts seem to be thus: After years of what several published sources call “living a double life,” in 2007 religion teacher Mike Krolikowsky began growing his hair long, painting his nails, wearing hoop earrings, and otherwise looking more feminine.

Eventually, a parent said something. The school called him in to talk about his appearance, and he told them he was “transgendered” and thought of himself as a woman. He says the school asked him to “tone it down” and that he did, sporting a haircut that looked like an odd take on the Beatles bob but wearing a tie. In October 2012, he was he was fired for insubordination.

Judge Hart wasn’t buying it. “Insubordination after 32 years of teaching?” a local ABC news affiliate quote him saying in court. “And the insubordination seems to coincide with the expression of being transgender?”

There are Facebook groups demanding apologies and reinstatement, and a requisite Change.org petition has been started on his behalf. Mr. Krolikowski says someone in the school office told him he was “worse than gay,” and the ABC station (calling him “her”) sympathetically reported “it took all her strength not to cry.”

“All he wanted to do was to be judged by who he is and not what he is, and it’s a horror that in this day an age, the school has chosen to judge him by what he is and not who he is,” Mr. Krolikowski’s attorney, Andrew Kimler (still using masculine pronouns), told the station.

The school issued a statement saying Mr. Krolikowski had been fired “for entirely appropriate and professional reasons, and in no way discriminatory.”

Since being fired, Mr. Krolikowski has had hormone therapy and breast implants. “My time is running out,” the former teacher, now 60, told the ABC station. “I want to live the way I was intended to be, which is as a woman.” He appears in court dressed and made up as a woman.

Sensational aspects of this case aside , the indisputable facts are:

  1. Mr. Krolikoswki taught religion in a Catholic school
  2. People who are paid to teach religion are generally agreed to be “ministerial employees”
  3. “Ministerial employees” of churches and church-related organizations are exempt from equal opportunity employment laws that prohibit firing people who belong to a protected class, because churches have the right to say who can and cannot perform ministerial duties and teach their faith

So why did a state supreme court judge reject a motion to dismiss based on the ministerial exception?

He’s not saying. Mr. Krolikowski’s lawyer, Andrew Kimler of the firm Vishnick McGovern Milizio, LLP, didn’t reply to an inquiry from this reporter. But in a published statement, he said that the case “has significant ramifications for the LGBT community and is a wakeup call to employers in terms of employment practices.”

To trace how a law meant to ensure that people can’t be fired from Denny’s or Sears or Vishnick McGovern Milizio, LLP, for being gay turns into a law that can be used to keep a Catholic school from firing a man who insists that he’s a woman — a man whose job it is to teach ITAL religion END ITAL  — is too complicated for one article.

Suffice it to say: It does. Or at least, a lot of people want it to. And to people who think a man can magically become a woman, it’s no great stretch to say that a ministerial employee can magically become a non-ministerial employee.

 

 

 

Gail Finke

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Gail D. Finke is an author and mother living in Cincinnati, where she writes for The Catholic Beat at Sacred Heart Radio.

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