Groups denounce Archdiocese, seek to eliminate religious exemption from Human Rights ordinance
By Jose Cassola
LGBT nonprofits such as SAVE and Unity Coalition|Coalición Unida are urging the Archdiocese of Miami and Florida lawmakers to reverse its “un-Christian policy of intolerance and hate” after a lesbian Catholic school teacher was fired from her job last week for marrying her partner, who is also a woman.
First-grade teacher Jocelyn Morffi was terminated from Sts. Peter & Paul Catholic School after school officials learned she had married her longtime girlfriend, Natasha Hass, Feb. 3. Florida remains one of the few states where employers can still fire someone based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
The Instagram post Jocelyn Morffi shared with her family, friends and followers.
Morffi revealed the news in a public Instagram post, saying she “married the love of my life and unfortunately I was terminated from my job as a result.”
“In their eyes I’m not the right kind of Catholic for my choice in partner,” Morffi said. “However, I will continue with #teachhope and will inform you of the new location for the February 25th outing very soon. Also thank you for the outpour of love and support.”
Morffi was recognized in The Miami Herald in 2015 for a program she started at Sts. Peter & Paul Catholic School called #teachHope70x7, which encouraged children to feed the homeless and spread hope in the community. The “70×7″ references a bible passage about forgiveness.
Parents at Sts. Peter & Paul Catholic School learned of their children’s teacher’s firing from a letter the school issued last Thursday.
“Today a difficult and necessary decision has been made regarding Ms. Jocelyn Morffi, our first-grade teacher. She is no longer teaching at our school,” the letter read. “Please know that your child(children)’s education is of the utmost concern for us and throughout the next days and weeks your child’s daily school routine will not be disrupted as Ms. Morffi’s replacement will be selected very soon.”
A group of upset parents showed up to the school the day after receiving the letter, voicing their disagreement with the school’s decision to dismiss Morffi. Some even threatened to pull their children out of the school.
Natasha Hass and Jocelyn Morffi
Tony Lima, executive director of SAVE, said Morffi approached him and his LGBT rights group for assistance.
“I think it’s shocking that this continues to happen in South Florida,” Lima told The Miami Herald. “Religious exemptions are a means to discriminate. It’s important to continue educating the community that this kind of stuff happens in this day and age. But it’s even more important to pass comprehensive statewide protections.”
Herb Sosa, director of Unity Coalition|Coalición Unida, says religious exemption is “an unjust, discriminatory and outdated law that [we] strongly call for its elimination — now.”
“The firing of a liked and celebrated teacher for living her truth of love and marital union once again highlights the need for protection of all Floridians from discrimination,” Sosa said. “Her marriage is legal in our state and should be seen as a beacon of all things good and honest, not a threat or reason for losing her job.”
Mary Ross Agosta, a spokesperson for the Archdiocese of Miami, told Politico Florida that Morffi was fired for violating her contract. She said Catholic school employees have to sign a contract pledging they will follow church policy, which includes a prohibition on same-sex marriage.
“When a teacher is in a Catholic school and signs a contract it is expected the policies, procedures, teachings, and traditions of the Catholic Church will be respected and honored,” Agosta said. “This is a Catholic school. Parents send their children to a Catholic school because of the church’s teaching, the discipline and the spirituality. This was a well-liked teacher for seven years. But when a contract is broken, it leaves the employer with no other choice.”
Miami’s current archbishop, Thomas Wenski, has a long history of anti-gay comments. When the U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage nationwide in 2015, Wenski released a statement comparing the ruling to the 1857 Dred Scott case, which stated that black people could be legally owned as property in the United States.
Sosa says it’s time for the Archdiocese of Miami to “reverse its policy of intolerance and hate – two qualities that are anything but Christian, in teaching or practice.”
“It is time for the Archdiocese to really learn and put into practice what being a true Christian is,” Sosa said. “There is nothing immoral, conflicting or shameful in Ms. Morffi’s commitment to her partner and her students, and both are equally as strong and unquestionable.”
Jocelyn Morffi married longtime partner Natasha Hass Feb. 3.
Javier Estevez, who is running for State Representative in District 105, said Morffi’s firing is “discrimination, plain and simple, and is unacceptable.”
“This proves the fact that private schools aren’t as tolerant as they make themselves out to be, which makes the Florida Legislature’s new proposals to protect bullied LGBTQ students a failure even before being put into action,” Estevez said.
When the Human Rights Ordinance, the law that protects all people from discrimination, was passed in 1998, it included a a religious exemption regarding sexual orientation for LGBTQ people.
“Plain and simple, the case of this fired teacher points to the need for us as a community to go back to that ordinance and eliminate the exemption,” said Damian Pardo, head organizer of the Gay8 Festival, which takes place Sunday, Feb. 18, in Little Havana and includes various programming for lesbian women. “What happened was discrimination cloaked in ‘the rule of law’ — a law the Catholic Church could not have defended against any other minority group. We have our marching orders to go back and repeal the exemption.”
Despite protests from parents, LGBT nonprofits and other supporters, openly gay State Rep. David Richardson — a Miami Beach Democrat running for Congress, who is the top fundraiser in the primary for Florida’s 27th Congressional District where Sts. Peter & Paul Catholic School is located — said Morffi’s dismissal is likely legal.
“It’s 2018, but you may be surprised to learn that you can be fired from your employment not just because of gay marriage but also because you’re gay,” Richardson told Politico Florida. He said Morffi’s firing highlights a need for federal legislation and the passage of FL HB347 (18R), which would ban Florida hotel owners and employers from discriminating against people due to their sexual orientation or gender. Richardson says the Republican-led legislature in Tallahassee has rejected the bill for years.
Last Thursday at the Miami-Dade Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce’s “State of Our Community” business luncheon, Richardson via Skype said in Tallahassee there’s a focus on LGBT related bills, including efforts to get a gay marriage ban out of statute and to separate an anti-discrimination bill regarding housing and employment protections for LGBT individuals. Richardson proposes to have one bill on housing protections and another on employment that is LGBT inclusive, but he says that “isn’t going anywhere” with the Republican leadership in Tallahassee.
“The bill regarding anti-discrimination against the LGBT community that has been filed for the last 10 years or so is not moving. It’s not being heard,” Richardson said. “I also can’t get anyone here in the Republican leadership to hear the bill to get the gay marriage ban out of statute, even though there’s a law in the books that says every year we clean up the statutes and delete the ones that are no longer applicable.”
Natasha Hass and Jocelyn Morffi
Morffi’s attorney, Erica Canas, told NBC 6 she and her client are considering legal action against Sts. Peter & Paul Catholic School and the Archdiocese of Miami.
“Jocelyn is humbled by all the love and support she has received from family, friends, the students’ parents and the public. She feels that the manner of her firing was unfair, not only to her, but to her students as well,” Canas said.
Pardo said the Archdiocese’s decision to terminate Morffi because of her sexual orientation is “legalized discrimination based on their own homophobia.”
“And the people who paid the ultimate price are the children in that classroom who lost an amazing teacher and don’t understand why,” Pardo said.