16 October 2014

Over 100 students, alumni of Columbus Bishop Watterson, and community, labor supporters, packed the meeting room of the local Unitarian Church last Saturday, rallying to support beloved 19 year Watterson teacher, Carla Hale, who was fired by the Catholic Diocese for “violating the morality clause.”

Carla had just lost her mother and had returned to work, as a teacher at Bishop Watterson High School, after the funeral. However, instead of the condolences she received from students, staff and other teachers, the administration of that Catholic facility called her in and fired her. The diocese had, they stated, received an “anonymous letter” pointing out that her mother’s obituary stated that she was survived by Carla “& her partner.”

“That is really a disgusting double-standard,” said Bill Clarson, who, with his wife Jane, were just leaving the Unitarian Church. “When you see how they’ve treated the priests who’d molested children, just moving them and covering up, for them to fire a wonderful teacher, who’d done nothing wrong is just plain wrong!”

“We believe in morality, that God says we should treat everyone with respect and kindness,” Jane added. “I just can’t believe Jesus would’ve greeted this fine teacher with a pink slip after she’d just buried her mother. I guess we just must have an entirely different definition of morality!”

The meeting was called to organize an ongoing support campaign, called HaleStorm by the participants, to push for Carla Hale’s reinstatement.

“Since this injustice, the entire Bishop Watterson community, as well as the community outside the church, has rallied to her defense,” stated meeting chairperson Amanda Finelli. “We were taught the values of humanity, decency and treating other people with dignity when we attended Watterson. Ms. Hale’s firing goes against every decent value we learned there!”

Amanda had just returned from six years, studying for her degree in England.

“I wanted to do something good, use my education for something real, for change, not just to make money.”

She said that she’d applied to work for unions, at a few colleges and for a couple of non-profit groups, but decided to stay in Columbus, Ohio and fight for Carla Hale’s reinstatement, after hearing of her discharge.

“If we can show the diocese how wrong they are, and actually change their policies for the better, that would really be something worthwhile,” she said.

After opening the session, students, alumni and friends made reports on recent actions taken to protest the firing. These included an online petition,

Petition, supporting Carla Hale, which now has over 100,000 signatures.

A number of spontaneous rallies and pickets, have been organized, including dozens of Watterson students’ picketing the Columbus Catholic diocese office the day before. Buttons, with the Bishop Watterson logo, and an equality sign transposed on it, were passed out and a discussion took place on printing T-shirts and posters to protest the firing. An on-line campaign was kicked off and speakers talked of the need to widen the struggle, reach out to other communities. On-going committees were set up, on research, outreach, actions and for press/media relations.

Watterson senior Zach Simmons said they wanted to “return something” to Ms. Hale. “She taught us about love, acceptance and tolerance. She’d do anything for us, we just want to return the favor and stand up for her.”

They all spoke about the almost total public support they are receiving.

Across the street from the diocese, Rick Brunner’s windows carry the message; “We Love Carla Hale!”

“We were out there all day, with signs, buttons, asking everyone to support Ms. Hale’s reinstatement,” said Watterson senior Grant Stover. “But we’re out there for everyone, everyone deserves equal rights! We will not be satisfied if she is rehired, but they can do this again to someone else.”

That sentiment was echoed by Glen Skeen, CWA union officer & president of the new Pride@Work organization, a constituency group of the AFL-CIO supporting rights of LGBT workers.

“Carla Hale’s firing is a violation of worker’s rights, every worker’s rights, not just LGBT workers. Discrimination against her is also against all of us and we intend to stand with you, against this outrage,” Skeen stated.

“When the diocese campaigned against health care for all, they said it violated religious freedom. Now we can see clearly what they were talking about; the ‘right’ to fire workers for any reason they want. That is wrong!”

Hale has filed a grievance with the Catholic teacher’s union she is a member of, as well as a lawsuit.

“This is a clear violation of Ms. Hale’s rights as a citizen and as a teacher,” said Tom Tootle, her attorney. “We’ve filed a lawsuit, the city has moved to enforce its anti-discrimination ordinance and she’s filed a grievance through her union for reinstatement. While nobody really wins in a situation like this, we are very confident and Carla has three different paths on which she can prevail.”

“We aren’t going away, we will be here as long as it takes to get justice,” Amanda Finelli stated, as the meeting broke up. She went on to tell us how the diocese had instituted a gag-order for teachers, closed off their web site from any communication and were trying to intimidate teachers and supporters of Carla Hale. “It won’t work,” she said, “it’ll just make us stronger!”

The following morning, dozens of people showed up at St. Andrews cathedral, handing out cards supporting Carla Hale to those arriving for Sunday services.

That evening, John Petrucci, a parent of a Watterson student, was forcefully removed from an annual diocese’ fund-raising dinner when he rose to call on Bishop Campbell to “take responsibility for Carla Hale’s dismissal.”

“He won’t stand up and say, ‘It was my call,’ so all the pressure is on the kids,” Petrucci said. “I want it off those young folks and on the ones that actually made that decision.”

After being removed forcefully, Petrucci sought medical care at an emergency room and filed a police report.

Today it was learned that the city had moved to enforce its anti-discrimination ordinance, filing a complaint against the Catholic Diocese.

The city of Columbus has a very strong anti-discrimination ordinance, passed two years ago after a tough struggle, with specific language outlawing discrimination because of sexual orientation, as well as race, age or sex.

“We want to do want we can to help in this struggle,” said Glen Skeen. “Labor can help strengthen this campaign. We intend to do all we can to see that everyone hears about it and jumps on board to help out.”