October 15, 2019

Dancing with the Devil

Christian Brothers High School (CBHS) in Memphis, Tennessee, is being sued by the parents of one of its students. The complaint accuses the all-boy Catholic school of punishing, humiliating, and depriving student Lance Sanderson of his senior year. What, you may ask, did this young man do to bring down the wrath of the administration? Well, this is where it gets interesting. Supposedly, all Mr. Sanderson did was want to bring a boy as his date to the homecoming dance. Ten years ago, this story would have been laughable (and rightly so), but not now. Here is an abridged account of what happened:

As a freshman, Sanderson told his school counselor that he was a homosexual. Sanderson said that his counselor responded as if he was “ashamed, embarrassed, and disapproving of Lance’s sexual orientation.” The counselor advised him not to tell other students.

Before his senior year was to begin, Sanderson asked the administration if he could bring a boy to the homecoming dance. The principal, according to Sanderson, made derogatory remarks about homosexual relationships and how unstable they are, which upset the young lad. A follow-up email from the principal reiterated his position on denying Sanderson his request. Sanderson then published the email on Twitter.

The situation deteriorated over the next few days. As the school received some criticism for their actions, they decided that it would be better for Sanderson to finish his senior year at home and learn via the internet. At the end of the year, the school mailed him his diploma. Thus, the parents decided to sue, citing a breach of contract (explained below).

Assuming the news account is factual, it is clear that CBHS has gotten itself into this mess by having a statement in its student code of conduct that was undoubtedly added to be politically correct but was foolish and unnecessary. The code declares that students should feel “safe, secure, and accepted,” regardless of their “sexual orientation.” For a lawyer, the word accepted is a loophole just waiting to be exploited.

The code of conduct could have stated something like this:

Students who declare an orientation toward sexual behavior contrary to the teachings of the Catholic Church will be counseled to fully understand these teachings and, with prayer and God’s grace, be brought into full compliance. When appropriate, parents will be invited to participate in this process. Students who act out, or attempt to act out, such behavior on school grounds or during school activities will be suspended and face possible expulsion.

I’m not a lawyer, but I would think such a statement would have prohibited Mr. Sanderson from even attempting to bring a young man to the dance.

Another problem for CBHS is that it apparently accepts federal funding. Any Catholic school taking money from the government is inviting disaster and will eventually lose its soul. One wonders if the language in the code of conduct was not required by the feds. If the school can’t raise enough money through other means, then it should just shut down.

As for the breach of contract, Sanderson’s lawyer stated, “The school holds itself out to be a nondiscriminatory entity as it relates to sexual orientation, so that is–if not directly incorporated–implied in the contract for services.” CBHS will have a hard time proving otherwise.

Young Mr. Sanderson is not without fault here. He knew as early as ninth grade that the school was opposed to his sexual orientation. After the counselor told him to keep it secret, he never hid his preferences. According to the news account, he never complained about his treatment by other students until his senior year. Then, after the principal rejected his desire to bring a boy to the dance, he claims that some students began to call him “fag” and bully him. One would wonder why this would happen since the entire school knew about his orientation for three years. Why would they now start to abuse him? This does not pass the smell test.

The parents’ lawsuit is another disturbing aspect of this story. I can only assume that Sanderson’s parents have known about their son’s homosexuality for a long time and, obviously, have no problem with it. And yet they sent him to a Catholic school that condemns that lifestyle. It’s not as if the parents had no options. Once the school rejected his boy date, why didn’t they simply remove him from the school and enroll him at a school where his preferences would not cause him distress? Oh, no. That would be too easy. So they choose the lawsuit to gain fifteen minutes of fame and perhaps some extra money in the bargain.

There is enough blame to go around for both sides in this debacle. But CBHS will probably end up settling out of court. It won’t help when the plaintiff’s lawyer reads this from the school’s website: “We value diversity in all its forms . . .” Once you write that, what leg do you have to stand on?

The lesson for CBHS and all Catholic schools should be obvious: Be unequivocally loyal to the Magisterium of the Catholic Church in every aspect of what you believe and practice. If you are not willing to do that, then please quit calling yourself “Catholic.”

(Postscript: Is anyone aware of a case of parents suing a so-called Catholic school for false advertising or breach of contract? Just wondering. One would think there would be numerous opportunities.)

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Written by
Thomas Addis

THOMAS ADDIS is a retired high school teacher and published author, most recently authoring a children's book, A Gift of Light, which is available at Amazon. An M.A. graduate of Oakland University, he is Associate Editor of Catholic Journal. In his spare time, he enjoys reading and cycling.

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Written by Thomas Addis
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